Building Equity, Inclusion, & Diversity in Online Training Programs

online training program

My professional focus has been on providing excellent online educational content, delivering it and giving learners meaningful opportunities to engage with each other (and the content). However, in the last year and a half, I’ve committed a chunk of my time to learning more about equity, inclusion and diversity, and to participating in community and work-related initiatives to move such efforts forward. It’s a huge, fascinating learning curve. After a compelling conversation with a colleague, I decided to explore how equity is handled in developing online learning environments. It has been a challenge, to say the least.

When I Google “equity in online training” and similar key phrases and words in various combinations, what pops up ranges from harassment prevention programs to diversity in research courses to private equity training (to score coveted jobs in finance).

After going too far down the rabbit hole, finally what I’m seeking appears. Kinda. There are resources out there about access and equity for learners in online education. These include a few white papers and theses promoting diversity in both actual and online classrooms – but just for K-12 and higher ed. Where’s the top ten tips for instructional designers working in the private / for-profit sector?

On Accessibility

Harvard’s Graduate School of Education launched its Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity (FPD) program in 2014. The program focuses on, among a few other things, accessibility. To wit: “online learning requires a computer or other device to mediate interactions between and among people and content. Therefore, if a person cannot interact with the machine in ‘typical’ ways, how might their learning experience be impacted?” Great question, Harvard.

A few years ago, I brought a client project to Wordsmithie – to create an online program that would train people involved in the packing, shipping and marketing of agricultural products. Fruit. OK, pears. One of the many design considerations was not only when employees would be able to access the course but how.  All workers at every level of the process had access to smartphones, but not computers or tablets. Further, smartphones are the way in which most of us are consuming media these days. Phones! There was the accessibility question answered, at least for that particular project.

For businesses, especially those trying to “get with the now,” the e-learning industry offers tips related to accessibility online which seem to only span ADA compliance issues – not racial, gender, sexual orientation, age or other equity and inclusion opportunities. This vexes me.

From my own instructional design experience, I’ve always considered language and images as part of promoting diversity and making sure my learners felt included. Consider varied, non-gendered pronouns. Use images showcasing a variety of people. Avoid slang or lingo that only pertains to a particular, small group. In case studies, use names of individuals and businesses that span cultures. These tips all seem intuitive to me, but they also seem to not dive deep enough.

Launchpad for Change

I’ve written previously about what to keep in mind when designing robust online learning environments. I think they come up short no matter the demographics in your digital design firm or creative agency, no matter your industry, no matter your online learning environment.

So I’m still snooping around for good resources about building equity, inclusion and diversity into our online training courses. This issue is surely fundamental for sound online training design, spanning myriad fields and professions.

I’d love to hear from you on best practices for equity, inclusion and diversity in instructional design. What have you got? I’ll keep snooping too, and post my findings right here so we can all become good stewards of the work that really needs to be done.

ABOUT Eve Connell

Eve spends most billable hours writing, editing and helping professionals of all stripes with communication skills and leadership development. With degrees in French literature, philosophy, and linguistics, she also enjoys helping businesses and entrepreneurs develop their brands. Fancying herself a successful worm rancher, singer and flower arranger, Eve also lends her talent and expertise to several non-profit arts and educational organizations.