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September 3, 2021

5 Tips to Design Inclusive Learning

4 min read
By Maryam Mohamedali

D&I in the workplace is, based on the numbers, booming. D&I roles have grown by 67% over the last five years in EMEA. These include Directors of Diversity, Diversity Officers and Heads of Diversity. Germany alone has seen an 81% increase in D&I roles (France, 75% and the UK, 57%).

Evidence suggests that the rise in D&I roles has largely been driven by social movements. #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have made companies re-evaluate their pledge to D&I. Building more diverse and inclusive workplaces is not only the right thing to do; companies are recognising that having a more diverse workforce has a positive impact on profit and innovation.

Learning and Development is playing an important role in many organisations in this shift. Much of this role is focused on D&I training and awareness raising.

But is this enough?

D&I training often gets it wrong, resulting in reduced diversity and reinforced biases. Even if such training is done well at the individual level, achieving a culture shift organisation-wide can take years.

While it’s true that D&I training and awareness raising is critical, it’s only part of the role that L&D can play in creating a culture of inclusivity. To really make a difference in the shorter term, we must begin by considering the difference between providing D&I training and delivering learning that is inclusive.

D&I training = training on the topic of diversity and inclusion that aims to address workplace biases and prejudices.

Learning that is inclusive = ensuring that the bank of training content, sessions and programmes you have on offer, are designed to meet the learning and neurodiversity needs of your unique audience – regardless of topic.

The difference? Learning that is inclusive embeds D&I into the way you approach all learning and development, rather than containing D&I to a single training experience.

The basic point: there’s a lot of focus on D&I training and not enough on Inclusive Learning.

Enter Inclusive Design.

Anytime we create anything for other people, whether it’s learning content or something else, it has the potential to include or exclude people. Inclusive Design aims to create mainstream products and services that are accessible and usable to as many people as reasonably possible.

How does it do this? By designing for the 20%.

Let me explain.

Imagine these are all the people in your organisation:

The average distribution of people in an organisation

Most of them are in the center. They are the target audience for most of what is designed. Which means that, for these people, products and services are easily usable. They make up 80% of your organisation.

The 80%

Outside of the 80% rim, is where the remaining 20% lie. For these people, products and services are either difficult to use (see the yellow circle) or cannot be used (see the red circle) due to differing abilities – both physical and psychological.

The remaining 20%

The critical point that Inclusive Design makes: if you design for the 20%, you’re automatically encompassing the needs of the 80%.

Designing for the 20% on the edge is equal to designing for everyone

By tailoring your learning to meet the unique needs of your audience, not only are you making people feel relevant and seen, but you’re promoting equal opportunity and access to learning, development, growth, and progression.

So, are you designing your learning for the 20%? Here are 5 tips to help you do this:

1. Understand the uniqueness of your audience

Ask yourself: “How do they learn best”? “What are their barriers to learning”? This can include Neurodiversity variances, language barriers or any other notable constraints that prevent people from participating. The key is giving people the opportunity to share their learning needs with you. You can do this with surveys and/or focus groups.

2. Observe your learning spaces

While your audience is an expert on how they learn best, it’s impossible for them (or any human being) to be conscious of, and able to articulate, their every precise need. This is where you need to be the detective. Beyond asking people what they need, observe them in their learning spaces. You might be surprised by the insight you can get on how to be more Inclusive.

3. Co-design with your target audience

Ensure that those involved in the end-to-end process of developing your L&D opportunity represent a diversity of perspectives. Throughout the development process, keep asking: “who are we missing”? “Who isn’t in the room”? and then take the step to involve those individuals. Consider people you normally might not think to include (e.g., people from other functions, across hierarchies and age groups).

4. Design for Psychological Inclusivity. Always.

To do this, your learning must account for variances in Neurodiversity. ADHD and Anxiety have been on the rise, particularly as a result of COVID-19 – ask yourself: “How can we design for these challenges”? As a starting point, consider this list of suggested design guidelines for accessibility made by Designers at Home Office Digital.

5. Avoid “locking” the design too early

Be output-driven but be mindful of the process you take to get there. Create a low-cost prototype, test it with a diverse sample size, iterate on the prototype based on feedback, and test again. It’s imperative that you test with your audience as much as realistically possible before developing your L&D opportunity and rolling it out. This will help you ensure you’re meeting your audiences’ unique needs in the right way.


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