Inclusive Learning and Your L&D Brand

Inclusive Learning and Your L&D Brand

Anita Sinai Guha has deep experience in Corporate Communications & HR across a range of industries & countries. She is passionate about Talent Management through learning, leadership development, & diversity. Find her blogs on and tweets @anitaSguha. Views are personal.

Learning and development feature among the top five drivers that attract prospective employees. Given the VUCA world in which we live, employees are even more drawn to learn new skills. Business has also prioritized the need to reskill, cross-skill, and upskill staff. So, the motivation to invest in L&D has never been stronger! But is that enough? If so, then why do so many training sessions run only half full? Why are there so many declines and last minute cancellations? Anita Guha helps us understand.

Year after year, Towers Perrin conducts studies to identify the top “attraction drivers” that pull talent toward organisations. Invariably, “learning and development opportunities” features among the top five of these drivers. Continuous learning has always been something that employees have valued as they grow in an organisation. And given the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world in which we live, employees have become even more drawn to the need to learn new skills. Business has also increasingly prioritized the need to reskill, cross-skill, and upskill their staff. So, the motivation to invest in L&D – whether from the individual or from the organisation – has never been stronger! And yet, once we identify relevant and appropriate content, when workshops are announced, and invitations sent out, we are plagued with declines, last minute cancellations, and no shows. Many classes run half full. What is going wrong?

If this is a problem you are facing in your company, then read on! In this article, I make the case that a key disengaging factor in the learning & development arena is the lack of suitably inclusive learning strategy. Once organisations address this ‘inclusion dilemma,’ they will not only generate more engaged participants in their live or virtual classrooms but also activate the positive virtual cycle effect of a reputed L&D brand!

Generational Diversity has become a big focus area as more and more Millennials enter our workforce. Workplaces have always been multi-generational so why are we making such a big deal of the Gen Yz & Zz, in particular? Because there is a widely held belief that – among other things – the exponential development of technology, particularly mobile tech, has reshaped the experience of Millennials so significantly, that they require a unique approach. That organisations must somehow align with the expectations emanating from their association with technology – expectations of immediate gratification (translation: gamification with rewards), comfort with multitasking (translation: they are easily bored so keep them entertained), to short attention spans (translate to byte-sized micro learning to capture their attention), concern with the environment (translation: incorporate byte-sized volunteerism in their agenda), and more.

Learning and development opportunities features among the top five “attraction drivers” that pull talent toward organisations. Continuous learning has always been something that employees have valued as they grow in
an organisation.

Technology has significantly increased our range of choices in learning delivery. Organisations that continue to focus only on the traditional face-to-face approaches, will be left behind in this race for the eyeballs of top talent. Digital, just in time learning, mobile access, even virtual reality – these avenues must be explored and exploited to enhance the quality and quantity of learning delivery. That said, when planning a learning & development strategy, it’s dangerous to generalize across an entire generation. Yes, there will be 10 tech-savvy millennials who love mobile games but then again, there’ll be 2, who hate them. Likewise, the Baby Boomer or GenX-er in your company can’t be assumed to have disinterest in making an impact or discomfort with technology. She too will have her own identity. Bottom line – let’s not stereotype across large swathes of people. We lose more from that process than we potentially gain.

Inclusive Learning: What NOT to Do

However, a starting point for inclusive learning is to consider what NOT to do. Do NOT approach it by targeting a specific diversity constituency – be it a Millennial or a Woman or a Person with Disability. Instead, accept the fact that regardless of our age, gender, sexual orientation, physical (dis)ability, we all have diverse personalities, interests, likes, and dislikes. There may be a good reason to target specific programs to specific constituencies – in the nature of affirmative action; however, when planning a learning strategy, the targeted constituency approach can actually be detrimental to those not under your spotlight. Appreciate that all diversity constituencies contain multiple personalities. That is a good clue to a more inclusive approach to learning. Add to that, the fact that 4 quadrant models are, by and large, simple without being overly simplistic, and we are coming closer to my recommendation for an inclusive learning strategy. Honey & Mumford’s Learning Styles model can help you create and deliver more inclusive learning programs.

Many learning professionals will be aware of David Kolb’s Learning Cycle – experiencing, reviewing, concluding, planning – which is widely used in the design of experiential training programs.

Peter Honey and Alan Mumford built on the work of Kolb to come up with a model of four distinct Learning Styles or preferences that individuals use to learn. They suggest that most of us tend to follow only one or two of these styles and that different learning activities are better suited to specific styles.

The four styles are Activist, Reflector, Theorist, and Pragmatist, which, incidentally, align rather well with each of the four elements in Kolb’s Learning Cycle. ‘Hands- on’ learners or Activists prefer to learn through trial and error. Their philosophy is, “I’ll try anything once.” ‘Tell me’ learners or Reflectors prefer to be thoroughly briefed before proceeding. Their philosophy is to “Look before you leap.” ‘Convince me’ learners or Theorists want reassurance that the project makes sense. For them, “If it’s logical, it’s good.” And finally, ‘Show me’ learners or Pragmatists want a demonstration from an acknowledged expert. They believe, “If it works, it’s good.” Honey & Mumford have developed a questionnaire that assesses the individual’s predominant learning style/s and suggested that awareness of our style can enhance our ability to learn.

Am I recommending that you get your participants to take the Honey & Mumford questionnaire so that you can customise your learning intervention to align with their Learning Style? No, that is hardly a scalable approach. But consider the positive impact if your instructional designers and learning facilitators took the questionnaire? What if they were educated about the different learning styles and, thereby, encouraged to incorporate not one but all four styles into the learning interventions they create and deliver? Now, we’re talking! That is precisely the kind of holistic learning, incorporating activities and approaches that satisfy a diverse audience, which would serve to include all participants.

Personality Instruments in Learning Design and Delivery

I said earlier that each diversity constituencies contains multiple personalities. In fact, personality instruments are another great way to introduce an inclusive learning approach into the workplace. You may be using MBTI, Hogan, or DiSC in your organisation. Pick the one that your facilitators and designers find most accessible. My own favourite is the HBDI (Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument), a powerful psychometric instrument that measures Thinking Preferences. It is another four- quadrant model that can be used to enhance self-awareness and to foster teamwork. It can also be leveraged very effectively to incorporate inclusive learning practices by simply appreciating the diversity that exists in our classrooms. That awareness is the first step to ensuring the facilitator incorporates learning components and activities that satisfy each thinking preferences.

Technology has significantly increased our range of choices in learning delivery. Organisations that continue to focus only on the traditional face-to- face approaches, will be left behind in this race for the eyeballs of top talent.

We already know that repetition helps reinforce messages in our brains. Now, we have a checklist of different ways in which to reinforce the message: Roleplay for the Activist, Case Study for the Reflector, Subject Matter Expert for the Theorist, and Simulation for the Pragmatist a la Honey & Mumford. Worksheets and data analysis for the Blue Quadrant, sequential practice for the Green Quadrant, hands-on activities with a social learning component for the Red Quadrant, and big picture overviews for the Yellow Quadrant a la HBDI. It’s about being holistic by reiterating a key message in different ways – a good story can incorporate Facts, Form, Feelings and Future – and thereby, get a positive reception from a diverse audience. A mix and match of these approaches to communicating the message is both inclusive and effective.

Impact of Effective Inclusive Learning

When learning is inclusive, your participants automatically become brand ambassadors to recommend the learning to others in the organisation. That word of mouth testimonial carries a lot more weight than repeated reminder emails or even any special branding campaign to attract learner attention. Employees see learning as an investment in their future and are less apt to leave a company that is making that is committing to their development.

More engaged learners in the classroom reinforce a learning culture in the organisation, persuading business leaders to invest even more in L&D. It is a virtual circle. And the impact of inclusive learning also infects the organisation’s reputation externally. Top Talent all over the world is seeking opportunities to learn and grow. When they hear the buzz about your company’s inclusive learning practices, they have one more attractive reason to apply.

So clearly, there is a good case for leveraging L&D departments to become more inclusive in their approach and thereby reap the benefits of a better brand, both internally and externally. If you have not already done so, I hope you will begin your journey toward an inclusive learning strategy now.


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