Many associations have made advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority in their programs and services, including in meetings and learning. Compared to your organization’s past practices, you may think the learning you offer at your conferences is inclusive—but is it really?
“The most important thing that people always forget about is that you need to realize when you’re not being inclusive,” said Carolyn B. Thompson, a meeting planner and facilitator at Training Systems, Inc. “There’s a very large number of us who would say, ‘Yes. I love diversity and inclusion. Everything that I design and that I lay out for learning, whether it’s a big event or small, I always take those things into account.”
However, that’s not always the case. Learning styles, native languages, ability levels, and educational achievement likely differ among your attendees, and while you may have made strides to expand inclusiveness, you still may not be meeting the needs of all learners.
For organizations looking to make conference content more inclusive, experts say the key is to recognize where you’re missing the mark and identify which learners you are underserving. Ultimately, strengthening those weak areas will benefit an even wider array of attendees.
Leverage Universal Design
The good news is that research into how people learn has led to a better understanding of how to make education programs more inclusive and effective. Dwain M. Starks, M.Ed., chief learning officer at the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, recommends following the principles of universal design, a formal, research-based framework for optimizing educational outcomes for all types of learners.
“With what has been built for people with accessibility needs, we often find we all benefit from it,” Starks said. For example, in everyday life, the curb ramps that allow wheelchairs to smoothly access the curb also benefit people pushing strollers or rolling wheeled luggage. Similarly, adding universal design elements like captioning will help people who have difficulty hearing as well as learners who prefer to read text.
“Universal design gives us an opportunity to meet various learning preferences,” Starks said. “Some people prefer to watch a video or prefer to listen to audio instead of reading it. We make sure that we’re hitting different learning preferences through those types of means, with multiple modalities and ways in which people can consume content.”
Another simple guideline will help you avoid creating “cognitive overload,” he noted. “One of the things I’m big on from the learning perspective is making sure the content is at an eighth-grade level. That way, all audiences who are from different backgrounds can easily consume the content.”