Ensuring inclusive learning with remote teams

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Written by David Hosmer and Claudia Montoya-Andrews on 10 March 2021 in Features
Features

When it comes to remote learning there are more considerations than you think - ask David Hosmer and Claudia Montoya-Andrews.

As we continue to experience unprecedented social, economic, and pandemic challenges, L&D practitioners have focused on learning continuity. With many organisations transitioning to remote work, how can organisations ensure that all employees are included and have the support and access to inspire workplace learning?

Practitioners can boost equitable participation by proactively addressing hindrances that might get overlooked.

Case-in-point: Orange Coast College in Southern California, developed a leadership program. The needs analysis and design were completed pre-COVID-19, although it was launched in summer 2020. Enter the pandemic and nearly 100% of employees transitioned to remote work. The learning content was shifted to an online synchronous-asynchronous model. Because the original design was intended for in-person instruction, learners’ experience with remote learning technology was not a conscious consideration. Consequently, within the first week many participants were not engaging in the asynchronous component. The L&D team polled participants to unearth root issues. Their solution was to move all asynchronous content to the cloud and remove log-in requirements. These changes enabled access to materials from anywhere by all participants. By the third week, participation increased by 50%. Despite thoughtful planning, it was a lesson learned in blind spots that almost unintentionally excluded half the learners.

Ensuring equal access to remote learning can mean success in meeting objectives impacting organisational performance. Here are guidelines to consider for each learning event.

Pre-learning

Learner profiles

When exploring ‘who will be in the room’ practitioners must seek beyond visible demographic attributes and titles. Consider these questions:

  • What level of content knowledge and skills do learners’ have? Will work responsibilities impede participation? For example, customer-facing roles as in healthcare or sales might not have the same autonomy to attend a live event.
  • What barriers might prevent content access or inhibit participation?
  • Will materials need translation?
  • Can every participant read? One attendee at a management course was not participating in skill practices. During a break he revealed that he was illiterate.

Leverage data

Data to uncover learning gaps are critical. For example, what areas of the organisation are more/less active in the LMS? What patterns within teams demonstrate changes in participation since pre-pandemic? A poll with a manager whose team with low participation might reveal opportunities.

 

Technology and learning impact

Currently learning sessions are rarely in-person. Instead, delivery is likely online. Technology efficacy will vary and could impact learner patience and ability for successful learning. When selecting delivery methodologies ensure the following:

  • Every participant has the means to access the learning portal remotely. Is it a barrier if workers do not have printers?
  • Learners have space without distractions for themselves and other participants. Provide a 'tips for remote learning reference'.
  • Content availability in varied formats not just in live sessions, i.e., printable, videos, Ebooklets.
  • Ability to record sessions for later reference; for those who need more time to absorb; and to better serve people of all abilities.

Consult the Universal Design Learning guidelines for creating online courses for learners requiring accommodation and varied formats.

Manager involvement

Direct managers have the most influence with learners according to an HRD Quarterly. Encourage managers to actively support by:

  • Dedicating learning time on remote meeting agenda. Social learning modes for teams can reduce feelings of remote isolation. 
  • Conversing with employees before and after learning events. This builds trust and could surface unknown needs. For example, employees of varied abilities, linguistic minorities, could easily be included by asking what they need to be able to participate.

During learning

Synchronous learning facilitators must ensure everyone equitable participation. The pre-learning profile assessment will pay off here. Every remote learning session should include:

  • Establishing a safe inclusive learning environment at the outset.
  • Reviewing ground rules, e.g., 100% participation encouragement, leave titles outside, support cohorts’ ideas, etc.
  • Seeking to hear from every participant.
  • Before breakouts addressing hierarchical relationships to avoid inadvertent intimidation.

 

Post-learning

Surface additional hidden learning deterrents with an immediate post-learning online anonymous survey. Suggested questions include:

  • Prior to the learning event did you feel ready to fully participate?
  • If no, what barriers did you experience?
  • If yes, what support did you have?
  • On a 1-5 scale how easy/difficult was it to access the learning technology? Please specify.
  • During the learning session did you feel comfortable fully participating?
  • How were you discouraged?
  • How were you encouraged?

Additional resources

Many learning practitioners avidly seek new ways to improve their impact on organisational learning. Here are three additional resources to explore in adapting for diverse learners.

  • Bookshare - Ebooks library for those with visual impairment, dyslexia, or cerebral palsy.
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL) - Framework of guidelines to optimise teaching and learning based on neurosciences into how people learn.
  • Adaptive learning - evolving methodology using artificial intelligence.
    • Analyses what each learner needs and adapts individualised learning paths.
    • Enables customised learning for dyslexic and auditory.

Harnessing the varied talents of each team member is an organisational advantage. By addressing barriers to remote learning, practitioners will develop a strong inclusive learning culture over time. Thoughtful post-learning follow up can help accomplish this.

Replace traditional feedback ‘smile sheets.’ These post-training surveys tend to rate instructors and materials. Instead, seek to understand how to ensure equitable access and experiences for each team member. This new world environment begs for us to also become students, by continually learning how to improve our practices so that no learner is inadvertently left behind.

 

About the authors

David Hosmer, Ed.M. is an independent coach and consultant dba Cascading Coaching, LLC. Claudia Montoya-Andrews, M.Ed., is a learning and development practitioner specialising in corporate and higher education learning. 

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