Chimamanda Adichie famously warned, in her TED Talk from 2009, of the dangers of telling a single story. Drawing from her experiences as a student in the US, she recalled some of the assumptions her US born roommate had of her after learning she came from Nigeria to study. She questioned Adichie's proficiency in the English language and asked to listen to her "tribal music."
Adichie, after spending more time in the US, reflected that she wasn't surprised by her roommate's assumptions – the prolific stories and images of Africa spoke of “wars, poverty, and a people that needed saving with no voices of their own.” By telling a single narrative, the Western world portrayed her home continent in a way she didn't recognize, in a way that didn't encapsulate the rich tapestry of history, language, culture, and prosperity of Africa.
So, how does this relate to writing elearning courses with I&D in mind?
People respond to stories. A great piece of elearning is not just about making sure all the facts are there, but engaging learners through making the content real, relatable, and alive. And the best way to do this is through scenario-based learning, whereby learners apply their analytical and critical thinking skills to realistic situations, creating that semantic link between learning objective and action, boosting their likelihood of knowledge retention.
More often than not, when I look at a piece of typical elearning, its characters are largely white, largely western, largely cis (see Stonewall’s glossary of terms) and, unless if the scenario specifically calls for it, tend to be under 30. We tell the single narrative of "John," or "Jane," normalizing white western faces and cultures in our workplace.
Of course, workplaces do have these demographics (as a white westerner myself, I can attest to this), and in some workplaces this will easily represent the majority, but if these are the only stories we tell, are we making all our learners feel included as they work their way through our courses? Are we really representing the communities we both work and aspire to work with, and that we serve?
Sharing multiple stories
This is where writing with I&D in mind comes in. I was very fortunate to grow up in a very multicultural part of London. 'Common' names simply weren't that common, normalized cultures in the media formed only one part of the vibrantly diverse borough in which I grew up.
This has naturally bled into my writing and design style, bringing typically underrepresented groups to the forefront and turning stereotypes on their head. By doing this, courses I design serve two functions – educate the learner on the topic they’re taking the course for, and expose them to stories, names, faces and cultures they may not be as familiar with in their daily/working lives.
I appreciate that this is a relatively easy act for me as I have the privilege of thinking back to my school and sixth form days to create authentic and credible characters from diverse backgrounds. But there’s no harm in asking around – whether this be colleagues, friends, or even social media – when thinking about how to naturally weave this into your courses. Engage with these communities through whichever channel you can, or prefer, and listen to their lived experiences. By keeping these in mind as you script and design, you can seamlessly and authentically represent these groups as part of that social learning piece.
Threading your I&D strategy into learning design
It’s been a year since the murder of George Floyd, which sparked worldwide protests and calls for change. It also led many to consider how learning and self-education can help to make changes towards creating a world where people of all ethnicities and minority groups can feel they belong, and that they are heard and included. Inclusivity, diversity and belonging have become such an important aspect of our everyday lives, including our working ones, and studies have shown us time and time again about the value of a diverse workforce.
By designing courses that include an array of groups, not only are we making our learners feel more included, but we’re also reflecting the increasingly diverse and globalized world in which we operate. This approach can thread your I&D strategy through your learning experiences and contribute to employee engagement.
We, as content creators, have both the responsibility and the opportunity to shake up stereotypes and shift schemas away from those single narratives to tell stories that are truly representative of the rich tapestry of our global audiences. By writing with I&D in mind, we’re not only educating our learners on the topics they’re taking our courses for, we’re preparing them to operate mindfully, respectfully, and without bias, in our interconnected, globalized world.
Upcoming I&D event series
As a City & Guilds Group business, Kineo is part of a powerful global group, leading the way in skills development, technology and training. The City & Guilds Foundation's month-long series of free pop-up events in June is offering thought-provoking conversations and actionable steps to promote and improve inclusion and diversity in organizations.
Find out more and register here.