10 top tips to make your learning more inclusive

Diversity Dana shares some golden rules for making all learning more inclusive.

I went to a workshop some time ago to set goals for the upcoming year. You had to clip images from magazines to create a picture of what you wanted the next year of your life to look like. It was the first time I’d ever done something like that so I was really excited. There was a massive stack of magazines, and as I dove in to get started I realised that there were barely any images of people of colour, people like me. I wasn’t represented. 

Some of you reading might think: ‘Well all you had to do is use your imagination’ But that’s not the point. If in a workshop that requires visualisation you literally cannot see yourself, it’s clear there’s a problem. 

Sadly this is not the first or only time that I have felt excluded during a learning experience. It’s happened quite a lot, but I’ve realised that there are some very small changes we can make so that learning feels more inclusive. 

What do I mean by inclusive? When learning is inclusive, everyone engaged in the experience can take part, and access and understand key knowledge. Inclusive learning respects diversity, removes barriers and considers a variety of needs and preferences. This is really important because not only is everyone entitled to learn, they should always feel that they are. 

Here are 10 simple tips for making your learning more inclusive. 

1. Global graphics 
Whether creating slides or flipcharts, make sure that the images you choose are representative of the world at large. Your graphics should show a mix of genders, ages, skin tones, abilities, partnership statuses, sexual orientation, body sizes and more. 

2. Respectful language
How do you welcome people to your session? Traditional greetings like ‘guys and gals’ or ‘ladies and gentlemen’ exclude members of the community. Instead use gender-neutral greetings like ‘everyone’ or ‘folks’ or depending on the setting, perhaps less formal options like ‘friends’ or ‘peeps’. I have been known to get creative with these when I know an audience really well. Welcomes like ‘ladies, gentlemen and beautiful In-betweens’ or ‘guys, gals and non-binary pals’ have been two of my biggest creative successes to date.  

3. Axe abbreviations 
Ever sat in a session where an abbreviation was used repeatedly and you had no idea what it meant? When everyone else seems to be following, it may feel embarrassing to put your hand up and say ‘I don’t know what that means’. 

4. Mix up materials 
Consider the design of all the materials that you’ll be using. For example, if participants will be creating drawings, ensure there is a range of pens and markers of different colours reflecting skin tones and hair and eye colour. Ensure that any diagrams, images, case studies, videos and stories are representative of the people in the session. Using a mix of media can also help accessibility and give people a range of ways to access the same content. For example, if heavy reading is required, consider other ways to present the material, perhaps with audio or video. 

5. Assume nothing
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to research references made in training sessions to make sure that I understand the point being made. While searching, I’m sure I missed other things. 

I vividly remember the first time I went on a training course and the facilitator played the clips he was referencing as part of the session. It made everything so clear. I was wholly a part of the discussion and I could contribute fully. It was a small change that made a big difference. Consider how you can make your analogies and references come alive for everyone. 

6. Visual volume
I love what is known as closed captions – these are captions which go beyond just subtitles, to include descriptions of sound effects, for example, to explain what is happening for viewers who can’t hear the audio. I always have them turned on. It means I don’t miss anything and I also know that what I hear is what is being said. For non-native English speakers, or those with difficulty hearing, subtitles and closed captions can vastly increase the quality of their overall experience and their ability to follow along with video resources. When sourcing video resources, make sure they have subtitles or closed captions embedded, as appropriate, and turn them on as a default. 

7. Music matters
If you’re a facilitator who uses music in sessions, how do you build the playlists you use? Creating a shared playlist and allowing those attending to add their own musical selections either in advance and on the day can create a sense of welcome, inclusion and shared experience. It also means that there will be a bit of something for everyone and not just one single genre and voice, which can make some people feel excluded.   

8. Beneficial breaks
When sessions overrun, an easy thing to do to make up the time is to reduce or in some cases eliminate planned breaks. However, breaks are essential. It gives people a chance to process, reflect, get caught up and be ready to take in more information. So keep those breaks in! And remember that learners are different, so even as you create space for activities and knowledge sharing, allow space for thinking and processing as well. 

9. Readily readable
Follow some general rules to make your materials more readable. Red–green colour blindness is the most common form, followed by blue–yellow colour blindness. Try to avoid those colour combinations if you’re building slides and graphics. Use clear headings and bullet points. Always make sure that there’s plenty of white space and that text is broken up at regular intervals by graphics. Fonts also matter and should be clear and readable. However tempting, avoid using old fashioned (script) fonts, or zany modern fonts that are difficult to read and choose clear, modern (sans-serif) fonts.  

10. Keep asking…
While there may be some established best practices, like the ones highlighted above, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ rule when it comes to inclusion. The size of font that works for one partially sighted person may be too large or small for another. Some autistic people find having materials printed on coloured paper helps them focus, because it reduces contrast, while others don’t. How do you know what the right thing is to do? Ask! Make it a standard policy going forward to ask everyone attending your sessions if there is anything you can do to make the learning more accessible for them, and if you can, then do it.

Sarah Burrell

About Dana James-Edwards

Dana James-Edwards – also known as Diversity Dana – is a breath of fresh air in the world of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I). She helps companies build diverse brands and inclusive cultures, where team members want to stick around. Dana creates safe spaces for open discussion where people can explore, enquire and expand their own understanding. Unafraid to speak her mind, with compassionate sharing of lived experiences and humorous heartfelt honesty, she is sought after as a trainer, facilitator and conference speaker all around the world. 

Dana has worked across a wide range of industries and organisations – from start-ups to government agencies, leading consultancies and titans of industry. Her projects include developing and deploying ED&I programmes and initiatives, designing and delivering learning, shaping policies and helping organisations get to grips with their diversity reality. She uncovers and provides solutions for the things getting in the way of creating a workforce reflective of the wider world we live in.

Find out more at diversitydana.com


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