The dimensions and levels of inclusive learning experience design (ILXD)

In previous posts, we’ve talked about the concept of ILXD: inclusive learning experience design. But how did we get to this point, and what does it really mean? What’s needed to improve the inclusivity and accessibility of LXD?

LXD present …

There are four broad dimensions which can affect the effectiveness of a learning experience:

  1. The who + why: the learners themselves, their individual characteristics, goals, needs, preferences, backgrounds, etc.
  2. The what: the learning content or syllabus.
  3. The where: the learning environment (whether physical or digital).
  4. The how: the mode(s) and method(s) used.

These dimensions are interrelated and can have an impact at different levels of the learner’s experience. For example:

  • At a micro-level, the learners themselves may have a Specific Learning Difficulty that affects their ability to process text or sound. This could suggest a particular approach to presenting content which makes it more accessible, or they might prefer to use assistive technology.
  • At a more general level, a learner might be preparing for an exam that will be taken on a computer but not have equipment of a high enough specification to practise at home. Or they may need to study at home on a computer that’s shared with many other family members. While these aren’t features of the learning design per se, it will still certainly affect their experience.

Ideally, good LXD will always consider all of these dimensions at all levels. But do we really pay enough attention to the incredible variety and individuality of learners and their circumstances? In fact, can we do so – realistically, practically and economically?

… and future

We need a way to interrogate the four dimensions of good LXD in more depth, and without losing sight of the range of very real circumstances and constraints which can affect a learner’s experience.

To design experiences which serve the needs of all learners, we need to strike an effective balance between the general (economical, realistic) and specific (individual, personalised, inclusive).

And to be truly inclusive, we need to anticipate barriers from the outset so that we can remove or avoid them wherever possible – and this needs to stay front-of-mind throughout the design process.

Lately, we’ve been experimenting with different ways of plotting the four dimensions of LXD against three broad levels at which they could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of a learning experience:

  • the micro level (focusing on very specific details)
  • the macro level (the ‘bigger picture’ of learning)
  • the meta level (not limited to learning, but still affecting it)

At each point where these dimensions and levels intersect, we’ve identified some specific points that need to be considered. The idea is to represent and organise the very complex interplay of numerous factors that can all affect a person’s experience of learning so that we can help learners navigate a path through this.

For example, imagine a learning provider wants to design a mobile app containing a bank of videos to augment their current online course. We might ask:

  • Do any users have problems with hearing/sight/dexterity which could pose a barrier to using a mobile device or the app specifically? (who/how + micro level)
  • How exactly will this app fit into a larger learning ecosystem? Is its content part of a general syllabus, or is the app an optional add-on? How does using this app support what the learner is doing in the rest of their course? (what + macro level)
  • Is the app freely available or do learners have to pay extra to download it? What if learners’ financial means don’t allow for such extras? Will any learners be comparatively disadvantaged because they don’t have access to the app or to a compatible device? (who/where + meta level)

So what next?

Analysing and asking questions like these helps us to consider more carefully how inclusive a learning experience will be by identifying potential barriers to access.

But what would happen if we could – and did – remove certain barriers to learning?  If we remove one obstacle to access, might we inadvertently create others? Would the learning experience now allow more learners to participate? And would they truly be able to participate fully?

And another question that can’t be ignored is: what barriers are actually within our power to remove? What issues of fairness, diversity and inclusion can be addressed within the design and provision of a learning experience, and which problems need a much bigger, collaborative solution? What role do learning designers and providers play in perpetuating unfair systems, and how can we work together to do better?

Clearly, there are a lot of questions still to be explored and addressed. Watch this space!

We’re learning a lot through this project every day and we’re currently engaged in regular dialogue with experts in EDI, organisational change and in professional learning, in order to make our ILXD vision a reality.We’d also love to hear your thoughts and experiences of becoming fairer and more inclusive in your work, life and learning – please do get in touch.