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Designing inclusive learning

Written by Andrew Beatton, Learning Designer

It’s challenging to think outside of your own perspective when designing online learning experiences, but this is the key to solving some of the most complex online learning design problems. You’re biased towards your own perspective and this creates instant exclusion when designing or creating learning experiences for other people, everyone has different abilities, preferences, expectations and most people aren’t exactly like you. 

How can you remove bias and create inclusive learning experiences?

Kat Holmes who is one of the leaders in the practice of inclusive design and the author of the book ‘Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design’ outlines three core principles of inclusive design that can offer some useful places to start:

1. Recognise exclusion

What can you do to recognise exclusion?

It’s natural to form ideas based on your own experiences and abilities which tend to result in the design of exclusion points within learning experiences for many individuals. Recognising these exclusion points helps to form new ideas that lead to more inclusive designs.

Working out who is being excluded from your grand learning design ideas is a great place to start. I find developing some rapid prototypes of design ideas early in the design process a good starting point. Then seeking perspectives or insights from a wide range of different people who have different abilities can uncover the many unique difficulties people experience when they’re trying to use spaces or objects designed for learning. This doesn’t just apply to those people with disabilities, but those who have different preferences to the way they learn and use learning technologies.

2. Learn from diversity

How does learning from diversity reveal itself?

It’s a good idea to formally document or capture insights from people who are testing design concepts or prototypes as there is a lot to learn from them. What you want to look out for is people are great at adapting and understanding how they’re adapting to your prototypes provides important insights. 

If learning is difficult or the learning space isn’t providing people with what they want, they will adapt to find ways to get what they want. Often you discover people find interesting ways to use online learning spaces or objects you never thought of when first designing them. This can often lead to the discovery of new ideas which might lead to innovation if you’re looking out for it. 

3. Solve for one, extend to many

What does this look like in practice?

Often the discovery of a solution for one individual can extend to benefit many other people in different ways. A great example of this is close captions and video transcripts. These were initially designed to help people with permanent hearing loss but are now also used to assist many students to be able to watch learning videos in noisy locations and public transport without using headphones. Students can also easily search video transcripts to locate content within learning videos without having to watch the video. This is just one example which is relevant to the online learning arena.. 

Kat Holmes’ three principles of inclusive design extend far beyond what I’ve been able to summarise here, but hopefully they’ve given you a new perspective on inclusive design.
If you’re interested in finding out more about inclusive design check out Kat’s book ‘Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design’. Or get in contact with me, I won’t lend you my copy of the book but I can share with you some of my experiences with applying inclusive approaches in the design and development of The University of Adelaide’s Massive Open Online Courses available at edx.org.


If you would like to know more about how to improve your course design, please contact your faculty Learning Designer.

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