When people talk about inclusion, they often talk about diversity too. It’s true that the two are inextricably linked, but it’s important to recognize they are separate parts of an equation. We think Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid said it best when they said that:

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

We’ll be exploring the second part of this equation – inclusion – specifically, why it’s important and what it means for digital learning design.

Why Inclusive Digital Design is Powerful

Inclusive learning design provides opportunity for everyone to succeed, in any given learning context, regardless of age, ability, experience, gender, race or religion. This means creating a safe space to learn that encourages everyone to have a go.

The benefits of learning reach far beyond the immediate. The things that we learn in a classroom or through an online training program often benefit us beyond the work environment in which we are being trained to use them, and sometimes in indirect ways.

This knowledge and these skills may be immediately useful at work or for securing our next job, but they have additional benefits – the learning might make you a more confident person, a better teacher to others, a more productive team-mate, a more engaged member of your community, a more fluent conversationalist around the dinner table – because learning reaches far beyond its immediate purpose and environment.

Inclusive design is the difference between disregarding and embracing differences in learners. Inclusive design takes individual differences into account. 

The power of inclusive design is in its ability to engage everyone with learning content, its ability to expose learners to cultures and ideas with which they might be less familiar, and its potential to inspire and reinforce positive behaviors both within and without the organization. 

Inclusive design aims to faithfully represent everyone at work, but it’s also a way of representing the place in which you aspire to work in the future – a workplace that reflects the world in which we live today, in which positive values are upheld, and in which people choose to behave with kindness and respect. Of course, this might not be the kind of place everyone would choose to work in, but for the majority this is probably true!

Designing Out Bias in Online Learning

Human beings make sense of the world around them by applying cognitive tools known as biases. The way we think and the decisions we make are subject to both conscious and unconscious bias. 

It’s important to be aware of this when designing learning materials because it is by directly addressing these biases that inclusive learning content is designed.  There are dozens of biases that affect how we respond to information with which we are presented, but here are three of the most important biases to be aware of when designing learning content.

1. Like-me bias refers to the human predisposition towards seeking out people with similar attributes. 

It’s important to be aware of this when selecting your beta testing demographic and analyzing the feedback. If everyone in the group is like you, you won’t get a true sense of whether the training is working for everyone. 

2. Confirmation bias leads us to unconsciously seek information and data that supports our existing beliefs and interpretations.

To avoid false conclusions, beta test your training content with as diverse a group of learners as possible. Try not to rely entirely on quantitative data, because you’ll lose a lot of vital feedback that can only be collected in quantitative form. Keep an open mind when analyzing the data to avoid zoning in only on the information that validates existing hypotheses about how things should be designed.

3. Anchor bias describes the tendency to hold true to the first explanation or viewpoint presented, seeing it as the benchmark against, or lens through which to view all future information presented. This has the potential to skew our perspective because we are not giving all the information equal consideration.

Your Checklist for Delivering Inclusive Digital Learning Experiences

In 2017 Barbi Honeycutt and Thomas Tobin coined the term ‘plus-one thinking’ – a learning design methodology advocating that for every learning interaction that you create, you should offer another way for the learner to access the same information. In practice, this means delivering the same content in more than one format (visual, audio, text) to cater to different learning styles and abilities.

In fact, there are many more things to think about when designing inclusive learning content …

1. Pay attention to language

Use straight-forward language and keep sentences short. Consider whether delivering content in multiple languages would better meet the needs of all your learners.

2. Customize functionality 

Designing in options to adjust screen brightness, text size and volume helps learners with visual or hearing impairments better interact with the learning. 

3. Use subtitles

Including subtitles on your videos isn’t just helpful for the hearing impaired. It can be a helpful aid to learners engaging with content that is not in their first language and to those learning on-the-go, accessing content on a busy train or in a quiet room. 

4. Represent a variety of people

Representing different ages, heights, skin tones and body types in your content helps more people to identify and feel part of the learning. Try going one step further by introducing scenarios in which a variety of different people face the same challenge or need to complete the same task, but overcome it or achieve it in different ways. Such scenarios are often best communicated using imagery.

5. Include different voices 

Recording different voices for your video and audio content is a good idea. Learners respond differently to different voices – male, female, with an accent… 

6. Design for varying levels of experience

Take into account the different experience levels of learners. This is an important part of keeping more experienced learners engaged whilst making sure that those with less knowledge get up to speed. 

7. Design for failure 

We learn through our mistakes so creating a safe space in which to learn is important. Designing for failure means creating opportunities for learners to repeat modules and to risk getting things wrong. 

8.  Talk to your learners

Learning management systems are brilliant tools, but nothing beats the encouragement of a conversation with your manager. A truly inclusive approach to learning is one in which managers take an active interest in the performance of individuals, make suggestions for further development and take on board their feedback.

9. Gather feedback in as many ways as you can

Collecting quantitative data in online learning is far simpler than gathering qualitative feedback. It can be easy to forget that quantitative feedback alone does not provide a comprehensive picture of how well learning content is performing. It’s important to include qualitative data when analyzing the performance of learning content. Think about creating opportunities for peer-to-peer discussion around particular challenges and topics and giving learners opportunities to offer feedback through conversation or other means.

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to design inclusive learning content for your organization, the team at Motimate Creative Studio are ready to give you a helping hand.