Right now, diversity and inclusion are on everyone’s mind. However, what does diversity and inclusion look like within the context of eLearning? What do they bring to the table? And, how can you diversify your training materials?

Why inclusion matters

To start, we know that good training depends on:

  • Effective communication: So learners understand
  • Edifying engagement: So learners pay attention
  • Essential buy-in: So learners become part of the team

Good news! Each of these components can be strengthened with inclusive practices. That’s great! But, how do we go about incorporating these concepts into our current and future projects? Here’s how.

1. Identify bias in your writing

Inclusion and diversity must be considered from the beginning of any eLearning project. Simply revising images or media is not enough. As developers, we should examine the ways we actively promote diversity within our training, marketing materials, and businesses. To effectively incorporate diversification practices in your training, you must begin in the planning stages.

Make certain to focus on bias free, inclusive language before, during, and after constructing your script, layout, and visual design. It’s true that visuals are critical to demonstrating diversity in your workforce; however, the power and selection of words should never be underestimated. Words possess the ability to empower or debilitate learners in ways unintended by the writer.

Words possess the ability to empower or debilitate learners in ways unintended by the writer.

Need help crafting bias free communication?

The Anti-Defamation League has a wonderful article “Guidelines for Achieving Bias-Free Communication” that’s a great place to start. Use their guidance as a checklist against any of your written materials, from emails to eLearning courses.

2. Talk to your clients about bias and diversity

One question that surprises some of our clients is that we ask them directly about the diversity of their company. We inquire not only about their workforce, but also their clientele. Questions we ask include:

  • What are their company’s or organization’s demographics?
  • Do they have an equal split of men to women in their company?
  • Are they LGBTQ inclusive?
  • Do they employ disabled individuals?
  • Where are they located, in the U.S. or abroad?
  • What primary language is spoken in their organization?
  • Do they want written text and voice over talent that can reflect the local or regional dialect?

All these factors greatly affect the planning, development, and implementation of the final eLearning product. However, the answers to these questions have far reaching consequences beyond the confines of company training and instruction. They reflect the windows and mirrors of the organization.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop introduced the concept of “windows” and “mirrors” in the early 1990s. Although her writings referred to physical books, her observations can be applied to all media. Mirror media reflects the learner, their culture, and their community. Learners identify with the mirror and inadvertently connect to it easily. Window media offers views into cultures that are different from the learner’s culture. With window media, the learner is given an opportunity to identify cultural similarities and differences with the hope that the learner will emerge from the media with a different perspective.

Both types of media are important and should be incorporated into diverse and inclusive eLearning projects. Learners need exposure to media they can identify with personally, as well as be introduced to different perspectives.

Finding the balance with your eLearning client can be a challenge, but not an impossible task. Begin by asking your client to clearly identify what they want their training to represent. Offer alternative perspectives and agree upon an accurate interpretation. Finally, plan to build training that can be both a window and a mirror, both inclusive AND diverse.

3. Visually represent diversity: it matters

Historian and author Carlos Cortes notes:

“Minorities realize — supported by research — that the media influence not only how others view them, but even how they view themselves.”

Appropriate diverse and inclusive representation in media, and even in eLearning, is crucial to organizational success. Adding diversity to an eLearning course seems simple enough. But be careful! Avoid the trap of adding a few photos of individuals with different skin tones that may or may not resemble the demographics or even physical appearance of the company’s employees. When selecting visual images, also be aware of the situations and positions you are putting these characters in.

When selecting images and video consider the following questions:

  • Is every manager portrayed by a white man?
  • Are factory workers portrayed as minorities?
  • Are office staff always female?
  • Now, take a step back and look at the overall picture presented in the eLearning program:
  • What do these images say about the company?
  • Are women or minorities going to feel like there’s room for them to grow?
  • Can all individuals feel represented or included?

Also, don’t limit yourself to just thinking about race. Ask yourself are individuals with disabilities, those who are LGBTQ, or other societal groups included?

Think of inclusion and diversity in the broadest sense possible

When considering visual representation in eLearning courses, think of inclusion and diversity in the broadest sense possible. In the past, it has been challenging to find stock photography or video that appropriately reflects minority, ethnic, or societal groups that were not blatant stereotypes or disrespectful to the individuals portrayed. Thankfully, and with the help of social media, image repositories now contain a great wealth of diverse images.

Two great image resources include:

  • Getty Images features non-majority, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and LGBTQ stock photography and video. We especially like the work being done by digitalskillet. Their photography feels authentic, while expressing a great deal of diversity in all sorts of situations and settings.
  • Looking for illustrations? Blackillustrations.com is a great site. Founder and designer John D. Saunders has built a company that offers beautiful free or low-cost illustrations in a current, trendy visual style. These images range from icons to home, education, and office settings. They even have a free “The Movement Pack” developed to fight racial inequality.

4. Use your voices

When designing diverse and inclusive eLearning, do not stop at imagery. Increase the variety of the vocal talent you use by ethnic group, age, gender, dialect, and SOUND. When selecting voices, return to the discussion with your client regarding the diversity of their company.

Use the information about the company or organization to answer the following questions:

  • What characters or narrators do you need to include in your project?
  • Do you have audio talent that “sounds” right for the characters?
  • Is it possible to source vocal talent local to the client for authentic accent and dialectical speech?

While sourcing local talent can be a challenge, it may be a viable solution.

If your current talent pool does not reflect the sound you are looking for, browse through online audio websites like Voice123.com. There you can filter by gender and age. Each profile has a photo of the talent, lists where they are from, and what languages they speak, among other details. You can also post requests for audio talent.

For instance, perhaps you need a 22-25-year-old female with a southern accent. Post the project and identify specific characteristics, such as a native speaker who lives in the United States with an authentic southern accent. When addressing issues of inclusion, a request such as this should include that you are not looking for a cartoon or an overly exaggerated southern accent. In an eLearning course, fake accents are at best counterfeit, and at worst insulting.

Authentic voices; however, resonate power throughout every facet of the organization.

5. Examine your own company

The Office of Personnel Management has identified three tangible benefits to embracing diversity and inclusion within an organization:

  1. Serving our communities and being socially responsible
  2. Increasing innovation
  3. Getting a return on investment

By 2050, the majority of the workforce will be “minorities.” Being inclusive is the right thing to do so that your workforce accurately reflects the community at large. By casting wider nets and hiring diversely, you increase your company’s collective creativity and innovation capability. When diversity and inclusion create an atmosphere of creativity and acceptance, it improves retention rates.

Towards greater inclusion

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but we know that each step forward is the right step. Whether that’s within your eLearning team itself or in the programs you’re creating for other companies, there’s always room for improvement and always room to build momentum towards a more equitable and inclusive workforce.

This post was truly a collaborative effort. My team members, Indi Williams and Eric Hartmann, deserve equal credit for their thoughtful contributions and work on this piece.

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