Virtual training is here to stay and, in many ways, it is more inclusive than traditional in person training; we can include learners from around the world and the use of different media can make participation easier. But how can we be sure that our online training sessions are designed and delivered in a way that is accessible and inclusive for all participants? Are we creating the conditions for them to learn as best they can? Recent observations and experiences have led me to reflect on how well I’m doing and here are some thoughts and suggestions.
As part of our learning needs analysis we can ask in advance if there is anything we should know to ensure that training is accessible for everyone. We can also invite learners to message privately at the beginning of a session if there is anything they want to share, or that would help them to learn more effectively.
Also make sure that information is provided ahead of time so that participants understand the structure and objectives of the training as well as what is expected of them.
And it bears repeating, if you are inviting a global audience, check that your training is running at a time conducive to learning in all relevant time zones.
Not everyone is tech-savvy or fluent in the delivery platform you are using. It can be helpful to send a user guide ahead of time and allow a few minutes at the start to check individually that everything is working and explain the functionality you will be using.
We know to avoid text-heavy slides with boring bulleted lists. That said, I once received feedback from a participant during a webinar that she wanted more key words on the slides as English wasn’t her first language. Make sure key messages are included on your slides and consider sharing a glossary of specialist terminology or building one on a whiteboard or separate channel.
Remember that you may have learners with visual impairment so consider the following tips:
Use an accessible font such as Verdana or Tahoma in a decent size; 22 – 26 is usually recommended
Make sure the colour contrast is accessible – a dark font on a pale background is often best and avoid patterned backgrounds or overlaying text on images
If you are using PowerPoint use the Accessibility Checker in the Tools menu
Avoid complex visual effects like fancy animations, intricate charts or lots of underlining and italic
Don’t use colour to represent meaning, particularly red and green combinations
Don’t assume that graphics and images will speak for themselves but take a moment to describe what your visuals represent
What’s in a name?
Using your learners’ names and pronouncing them correctly should be an easy win when it comes to making them feel welcome and included. Our name is part of our identity and as Dale Carnegie said, “A person's name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” Invite your learners to make sure their name on the attendee list is how they prefer to be called and check if you are unsure about pronunciation. We tend to remember names that we know and then it can be easier to invite those whose names we know and can pronounce to contribute. Those with unfamiliar names can find themselves side-lined.
It goes without saying that we should use language that our participants can understand. Take a plain English approach and avoid too much specialist terminology, colloquial language, jargon and acronyms. But more than this, make sure your language is truly inclusive:
Use gender neutral language – chairman, manpower, mankind are some obvious examples to avoid but these guidelines from the United Nations go into more detail
Be mindful of humour; it’s a great icebreaker but is often culturally bound and references to popular culture can be lost on or even alienate diverse audiences
Avoid culturally inappropriate expressions such as ‘Chinese whispers’ or ‘pow-wow’
This UK government guide is a useful starting point on language and disability.
Inclusive delivery style
Be mindful of your affinity bias and identifying with the people ‘like you’ in the room to the exclusion of others. Remember that introverts or those operating in a second language may feel more comfortable talking in breakout pairs or small groups and give multilingual groups some opportunities to work in breakout rooms in their own language.
I recently felt very ill-prepared when a participant joined an online session and messaged me to tell me they had recently become hard of hearing. It was particularly challenging as we weren’t using cameras and didn’t have the option to use close captions. We were using a workbook and a number of chat-based activities which helped. I checked in with the participant regularly and made smaller breakout groups than I had planned to avoid the risk of people talking over each other but I’m sure there was more I could have done without singling them out to feel different.
Allow time for reflection and invite learners to write down their thoughts and ideas before asking them to share with the room – if they feel comfortable. Do you notice when open questions to the whole group are always answered by the same one or two more dominant extroverts in the room and others are struggling to be heard? Ask ‘Does anyone else have anything to add?’.
15% of the UK population is said to be neurodiverse but they might not tell you when they join your training session. As you would with any group of learners, create a learning environment that feels psychologically safe and everyone is recognised as an individual. Use a range of learning and teaching techniques to allow for different thinking and processing styles and convey new information in bite size chunks with time for creativity and reflection.
Keep learning, do some research if you know about any specific learning needs in advance and keep checking in. And make sure you include a question about accessibility and inclusion in your feedback survey.