“Training must be relevant to the adult learner for it to be effective.” This is one of the central tenets of the learning and development profession. It’s a seemingly straightforward concept: when designing training, focus on that which is important for the audience – the stuff they need to know to do their jobs. While that is, of course, absolutely essential, it only addresses half of the challenge. For something to be “relevant,” we must also appreciate the audience as unique individuals and more than their job titles and daily responsibilities. If we want to create a meaningful connection with our audience, it’s critically important to consider what they bring to the table outside of their work: their cultural background, life experiences and learning abilities, just to name a few. Dr. Pramila Rao, of Marymount University, analyzes this topic extensively in a study in which she examines the practical implications that culture has on eLearning, specifically in India. However, her research reveals some universally applicable truths which we would all do well to keep in mind. According to Dr. Rao, “(l)earning theories imply learning and knowledge creation is largely a result of how individuals are socially and culturally trained. The method of learning among individuals develops in a chronological way which usually begins in the early formative years which is subsequently reinforced over the academic years culminating in established learning patterns by adult ages. Practitioners from multinationals observe a lot of learning discrepancies while trying to implement any global training programs”. (Included in that same study is a very useful guide sheet which outlines 4 key cultural dimensions and their impact on eLearning – highly recommended reading!) So, it’s clearly not a one-size-fits-all situation we’re dealing with. With that in mind, here are some points to consider when you approach your next training project.

Know the Audience and Yourself

Depending on the number of students you’re training (6 or 6,000?) and your current geographic proximity to them (next cubicle over or in a different hemisphere?), learning what makes your audience tick can be simple or quite challenging. If audience size or geography are conspiring against your learner analysis, what resources can you tap to help you? Project owners/stakeholders? HR Managers? It might require some time and leg-work, but any insight you can gain into your audience is worth its weight in gold if it increases the likelihood that you can deliver a more impactful learning experience for them. In the event that you do have ready access to your learners, the ever-useful Articulate community has a handy list of preliminary questions to ponder as you begin your audience fact-finding mission, which can be found here. And while you’re at it, do a bit of self-reflection. Consider what YOU bring to the table as the designer – your own assumptions, cultural background, experiences, etc. How do those inform the decisions you make about the course design, for better or worse?

Create Diverse Training

Most everyone who creates training for a living is already hyper-aware of incorporating diverse artwork (photos that include a broad mix of ethnicities, ages, genders, and abilities, for example) into their training programs, so I don’t need to use much time describing the importance of creating an inclusive look and feel. But what about function? There are decisions each of us can make in how we want our courses to operate which can help to make them more inclusive. For that, allow me to refer you to the 7 Principles of Universal Design, which, if you’re not already familiar, will help you work through some key decisions all designers have to make.

Get Feedback

All good training programs include an evaluation component that is conducted after the training has been rolled out. There are several standard measures by which the training’s effectiveness is gauged. How often is this idea of “inclusiveness” included in your own evaluations? This is your chance to get your audience’s (as well as the SMEs and project stakeholders’) honest feedback on how well they connected with the training material. That is, to see what you did right and where you can improve next time. Here are a few suggested questions to ask your audience that measure how inclusive your course is:

  • How well did you connect with the course content?
  • Were you able to successfully navigate through the course?
  • Were there any functional or technological barriers to your success?
  • For instructor-led training:
    • To what extent were you encouraged to participate in the session?
    • To what extent were you comfortable expressing your point of view?
    • To what extent did your facilitator convey or express gratitude for your participation in discussions?
    • Would you recommend this course to others?

Let’s wrap this up with some really good news. Creating an inclusive learning experience doesn’t require a significant amount of additional effort! But, as we’ve discussed, it DOES greatly increase the likelihood of creating an engaging learning experience! 

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