Improve Learning Experiences through Accessible Design and Inclusive Facilitation, Part 2

Learning is a basic requirement for success in any career journey. Employees want access to learning and development. And organizations that invest in development see greater employee engagement and retention. This means that offering effective learning in the flow of work is critical to organizational success.

Experts are still debating the effectiveness of virtual, hybrid, and blended learning (here, here, and here). But pandemic or not, flexible learning options are here to stay. And when we design learning experiences with accessibility in mind, we make inclusive facilitation possible.

No matter what type of learning experiences we’re talking about, you can apply a few simple strategies to increase accessibility and inclusion in both design and facilitation. So here are three strategies to improve learning design along with three matching practices for inclusive learning facilitation.

 #1: Map the route and use landmarks

Structure is always important. But in short live (synchronous) sessions, it is vital. The golden rule for both accessible design and inclusive facilitation is this: tell learners exactly what to expect and exactly how to engage with you and with each other.

Let’s start with design. Always provide inclusive access by default. Share the content to be covered with learners well ahead of time in an accessible format. Tell learners, in writing, what to do to prepare for an upcoming session. Use short sentences and active verbs: “Retrieve your Participant Guide and respond to questions 1 through 5 in your own words. Bring your work to your next live session in a format you can easily share on your screen” or “Prepare a 2-minute elevator pitch using the methodology you learned in this module. You will practice your pitch in small groups in your next live session.”

The same applies to facilitation. Tell people how to engage with you: “This is an interactive session. I invite you to participate either verbally or through the chat. I will pause every few minutes to hear from you, check the chat, and take questions.”

Narrate everything you’re doing as you’re doing it. If you show a visual aid, state exactly where you are in it and what you’re focusing on: “I’m on slide 3 now and I’m focusing on the data point A. The conclusion we can draw from this data is X. I’m moving on to slide 4 now.” Narrating your actions lets people better follow along. This can take some getting used to, but distracted learners and learners who engage differently with the materials will thank you for it.

#2: Invite people in, then let them drive

Adult learners bring a wealth of experience to learning opportunities. Use it!

In terms of design, this means allocating ample time for sharing experience and expertise, and for making learning feel relevant by applying it to real case studies – bonus points if the case studies come from your learners themselves.

The best live sessions are learner-driven, so resist the urge to micromanage the conversation. Be curious about your learners. Invite them to share how the content relates to their professional experience. Begin your sessions by asking open-ended questions: “What has your experience with X been?” or “How do you use X in your day-to-day work?” or “What are your biggest challenges with X?” Promote dialogue between learners. Doing so speeds up the rapport-building that makes social learning effective.

One easy way to boost engagement is to use people’s names. People love to hear their own name, so use this knowledge strategically. If you are working with blind or low vision learners, using names when inviting people to speak is even more important. Say your own name every time you speak and remind others to do it too. Using names helps all learners better follow the conversation, including those who do not rely on visual cues or those who may be multitasking.

#3: Create and hold space for mistakes

A facilitator’s primary responsibility is to create an environment where learners experience the delicate balance between feeling stretched and challenged and feeling safe and supported. Psychological safety takes time to build. This means that design and facilitation must make room for both skill-building and trust-building.

You can improve any learning experience by properly chunking content, scaffolding skills, and making live sessions a laboratory for trial and error. But your facilitation must also make trying new things as painless as possible.

Think back to the last time you struggled to complete a task and someone showed you a better way to do it. I’m certain you remember the emotional experience of that “Aha!” moment. Memory is solidified through emotion. This is exactly why creating a positive experience around making mistakes, receiving feedback, and trying again is vital for good learning retention.

So invest in building an environment of collaboration and dialogue in your sessions. You’ll know that you’ve succeeded when your learners steer the conversation, try their hand at something new, give each other feedback, and try it again.

Learning can and should be a positive, accessible, and inclusive experience. Try out these strategies for better design and facilitation!

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