The importance of inclusive learning design

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a dramatic acceleration in existing global trends for learning and working online – and this rapid transition has exacerbated the issue of exclusion from online learning, especially for those learners who were already marginalised.

At LearnJam, we believe that learning providers have a responsibility to design experiences that allow all learners to participate fully, and therefore learning experiences need to be designed as inclusive as standard.

Unknowingly upholding barriers and inequalities

Solving for the majority reinforces the dominant group

Most organisations take the pragmatic approach of designing for the majority, i.e. ‘as many people as possible,’ without always recognising that this has the unintended consequence of reinforcing barriers and inequalities.

By flipping this approach and instead aiming to design for the minority – or those that face the most barriers – you will not exclude the majority but rather create things that work for a much broader spectrum of learners; and may even provide a better experience for those in majority groups.

Equality is not equity

Most organisations believe they are being inclusive by welcoming everyone regardless of their background – this is equality. However, this does not create a level playing field. Each individual is coming from a different background and/or starting in a different place with different needs; this must be recognised, embraced and addressed to ensure fairness and equal opportunities for success – this is equity.

For example: 

  • Equality is inflexible lesson plans, while equity is adapting classes based on the needs of the students.
  • Equality is creating ‘neutral’ characters, while equity is seeing “people who look like me” in learning materials.
  • Equality is charging everyone the same amount, while equity is offering sliding scale fees, payment plans and scholarships.

Excluded groups are not niche

There can be a tendency to see excluded groups as niche; however, this is quickly seen to be false by considering the intersection of just some of the groups that experience learning barriers: persons with disabilities, persons with special educational needs (SEN), those from low socio-economic backgrounds, people of colour, LGBTQIA+.

Learner-centred design must include every learner

At LearnJam, we are redefining what it means to do learner-centered design: we have always believed in putting learners and their contexts at the centre of everything we do and we have grown to realise that this has to mean every learner

By creating more inclusive learning experiences we can reach more learners, move away from practices that are damaging to certain learners, and allow learners to participate more fully. 

By providing a range of ways in which to ‘succeed,’ we can create richer learning experiences for all learners.

Being inclusive as standard also helps us to anticipate a wider range of needs, rather than having to react impossibly fast when new requirements are brought to our attention. 

Regardless of numbers, all participation is worthy

Whether it affects one billion people or just one person, equal opportunity to learn is a human rights issue and inclusive learning design will help to create a better, fairer society for all.  

The change we want to see

We want to live in a world where:

  • Good learning design means creating engaging and effective experiences for every learner
  • An approach based on what works for most learners doesn’t mean ignoring or overlooking individual learners’ specific needs
  • Learning experiences are designed to be inclusive as standard. This isn’t something extra or separate from the ‘usual’ work of learning design – it is the usual work
  • Good learning designers are also good learners themselves, embracing uncertainty and keeping our minds open to new and different ways of doing things

Our inclusive learning principles

Our inclusive learning approach, and the resources and tools we’re developing, are guided by these core principles:

1

We take a practical approach. A more equal, diverse and inclusive culture is built up from many small, principled, fair moments and practices.

2

We respect the unique and complex nature of any individual learner’s own lived experience. We will avoid imposing labels or definitions that could encourage preconceptions or limits on learners’ abilities, ambitions or identities.

3

We recognise the importance of the systems in which individual learners exist. We actively seek to avoid perpetuating unfair or unbalanced systems of power and privilege.

4

We work to remove both physical and attitudinal barriers to access in all our projects and practices. We believe a good learning experience is one in which all learners feel welcome and able to participate.

5

We are aware of how cultural differences may influence concepts such as equality or fairness. When making recommendations for inclusive learning design, we are mindful of cultures and customs that are local to the learners we’re designing for.

Becoming a fairer and more inclusive organisation

We recognise that we can’t ‘simply’ develop a set of tools to make learning design more inclusive and accessible, no matter how useful these tools might be. We also need to take a long, hard look at ourselves, to reconsider and evaluate everything we do, and take concrete steps towards becoming a fairer, more diverse and inclusive organisation in all respects.

This means:

  • Interrogating, clarifying and articulating the principles that underpin our approach and what we know to be necessary in building a fairer world
  • Holding ourselves accountable to these principles through our general organisational policies, such as how we find and recruit new partners for our projects, how our website is designed, etc.
  • Reevaluating, revising and refining our practices so that we can evolve from LXD to ILXD and create courses in which all learners can participate fully

By attending to all three pieces of this puzzle, we hope not only to improve our work as learning designers but to improve ourselves as individuals and as a professional team.

One conversation isn’t enough

There are many possible reasons behind a lack of access to learning, and these can’t necessarily be addressed easily, quickly or just once. Finding the right approach for a particular learner might take time; it might mean revisiting multiple conversations and revising decisions; and that’s OK.

We’re always learning

It’s important to remember that there isn’t a single universal definition or approach to inclusive learning. The key issues and questions are always subject to change, so we too must always be open-minded, flexible and adaptable.

We promise regularly to review and evaluate the fairness and inclusivity of all our projects and practices, as well as reflecting on our own personal biases, prejudices and complex identities as learners and individuals.

Be part of the conversation

Please do get in touch with thoughts and suggestions – we always welcome feedback from a wide range of different perspectives and voices and we’d love to hear from you.

Inclusive learning design mailing list

We’ll be sharing updates on our research, what we’ve learned, resources we’re developing and insights gathered.

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