4 steps to designing inclusive training

Diversity & Inclusion
Diversity & Inclusion – Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

The training that we create as learning practitioners is missing an important mark. On the whole, such learning experiences tend to overlook diversity and inclusion. And that’s more than a pity. It’s a missed opportunity.

In this article, I will be giving you specific steps to help you consider diversity and inclusion so that you can create and implement training that truly speaks to the whole of your audience. 

Missing the mark

As a learning professional, you are probably well-versed in the principles of adult learning as well as instructional design models which inform the ways in which you develop and facilitate learning experiences for your clients. True?

You know how to conduct needs assessments and interpret the data you receive to identify learning objectives. And you know how to align your training methods to the objectives you set, and how to measure whether the learning goals have been achieved. So far, so good.

Unconscious bias

But training too often fails to address the identities and realities of diverse cohorts of learners. The images, language and scenarios we use in our learning are often unintentionally slanted towards the ‘majority’ cohort in our training audiences. It’s true isn’t it? As facilitators, we never set out to exclude people but sometimes that’s the consequence.

What this means for you is that your training products can leave learners with the impression that your training or coaching isn’t ‘right’ for them. Can you afford that? You want to be asked back, right? The fact is that people from minority cultures, perspectives and experiences long to see themselves represented and included in your programs. Oftentimes, they are not.

Shortage of D&I resources

So why does this happen? For a start, most learning & development practitioners have not been taught to consider diversity and inclusion during the design, development and implementation phases when creating learning programs. Furthermore, there is arguably a shortage of really practical resources to help learning practitioners like you and me.

Given that organizations are waking up to the clear social and economic value of an inclusive culture, it is essential that you and I account for diversity and inclusion in our training, not as an afterthought, but as a vital part of creating experiences that are relevant and engaging for the people we serve. If we don’t, it could impact our revenue and reputation.

inclusive training at work
Diversity & Inclusion – Photo by Tiger Lilly at Pexels

4 Steps for inclusive Design & Development

So where do you begin? How do you start to design and develop the D&I learning experiences that our learners want and need to see? Here are 4 steps for you.

1 Be clear about what D&I means to you

2 Be really intentional about inclusion

3 Check your assumptions at the door

4 Create course materials for diversity

1 Be clear about what D&I means to you

So the first place to start is to ask yourself what diversity & inclusion mean to you. Maybe you have given this some thought. Or maybe your definition is a work-in-progress. That’s ok. Either way you need to be crystal clear before you can start to create D&I compliant content.

Great Place to Work has a fascinating article called Why Is Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace Important?, which clearly explains that diversity and inclusion as related, but actually distinct concepts. With that in mind, here are my definitions:

Diversity is about considering the variety of perspectives and experiences (not just gender and race). And inclusion is about ensuring that those perspectives are valued and infused into a work culture where everyone feels included. Neither is about “tokenistic” gestures or ‘PR window-dressing’ or any other short-term, short-lived measure. Do you agree?

  • What does D&I mean to me so I can be clear on its implication?
  • If I had to explain how I design for D&I, what would I say to a client?
  • How is D&I reflected in my facilitation brand so my clients feel I ‘get it’?

2 Be intentional about inclusion

To the greatest extent possible, make sure you know who you are training and what perspectives and experiences they bring with them. This isn’t difficult to do when you think about it. As a learning designer, you can usually find out who has signed up to your program or workshop. You can usually consult HR, Managers and stakeholders in advance.

Next, you could ‘strategize’ as to how you will ensure representation and how you will gauge whether the training is meeting that mark. Ask yourself how you will engage the learners so they can contribute and share for the benefit of everyone present? What do they know? Where have they been? How are their learning goals influenced by their cultural values?

  • What’s my D&I design process to engage with client stakeholders?
  • What can I do to put myself in the shoes of my learners?
  • How will I ensure that this design is inclusive?
pexels marcus aurelius 4064418
Designing training for diversity and inclusion – Copyright pexels-marcus-aurelius

3 Check your assumptions

According to Harvard University’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, it is important to check your assumptions about your audience. So before you roll up your sleeves and start designing, you might want to ask yourself some questions about why you have chosen the images, scenarios, audio, language and methods you plan on using.

Is there an implicit bias? Are any stereotypes being reinforced? It is always a good practice to have a third-party (HR, perhaps?) look at your materials and design to ensure you are not making a misstep.

  • Where are my blind-spots and assumptions when I design new training content?
  • Does my existing training material need a refresh and who can help with this task?
  • Who can help me uncover implicit biases that I (or my associate trainers / coaches) have?

4 Create course materials that resonate

We’re nearly there! With the information you have gathered, you are almost ready to design. Before you jump in, a good tip is to create your own go-to-checklist so that your videos, scenarios, language and teaching methods are all representative of the wide range of your learners’ perspectives and experiences. Visuals are extraordinarily important here.

If it helps, both Unsplash and Pexels provide a huge variety of high quality images that you can use to reflect the diversity of your audience…

Next, ask yourself questions such as which terms or language might be misinterpreted? It sounds like a lot of work. But if you invest the time in carefully selecting each element of your training to ensure that your audience is adequately represented, you are going to reap the dividends! Better inclusivity and better feedback means better sales for you.

  • Which metaphors or anecdotes will work in each specific context?
  • Which stories / case-studies / exercises will have the most cross-cultural impact?
  • Am I the best person to create D&I material or should it be outsourced?


It is no longer a mere ‘cultural’ consideration – but a strategic imperative that organizations reflect the makeup of the increasingly diverse society they sell products and services to.

You and I buy from brands that understand us, speak to us and share our values. Brands that get this are now switched-on to the necessity of building a diverse and inclusive workforce.

So if you and I want to serve this workforce profitably as training and coaching providers, we need to prioritise the design and development of programs that helps our clients achieve this.

If It’s good for D&I, it’s good for RoI. That means it’s in your brand’s interest to speak to all of your customers irrespective of their background, gender and identity when designing training.

What are your next steps to make this happen? Share your thoughts below.

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