Inclusive learning environment: why diversity matters

A box of matches with different coloured tips, to represent the importance of an inclusive learning environment.

Diversity: the art of thinking independently, together

Malcolm Stevenson Forbes

There is a big positive impact that can be created by having a diverse and inclusive learning environment. First, let’s establish what we mean by diverse.

When we think of diversity, most commonly we think of race, culture, age and sexual orientation. But while these are, of course, the cornerstones of DE&I, its also important to consider the differences that arise in a business context. An inclusive learning environment could be made up of varying departments, business, position and expertise. On top of this, other diversity differences include personality traits in individuals, differing views and opinions, and different skillsets.

Through using virtual training, we create a space that is accessible to all, no matter their location, time demands, budget or flexibility needs. We can actively create an inclusive learning environment that is rich in varied discussion, through embracing these differences in one another. We can explore a variety of perspectives and experiences, while protected by a psychologically safe environment.

In their research, Gregersen and Christensen talk about the importance of networking and how it is a common trait amongst high level innovation leaders. They found that it wasn’t about these leaders just having a large network that was important. Rather, that having a diverse network made a difference. They found that the most successful innovative leaders were more likely to have travelled, spent time working abroad and from experiencing different perspectives it really helped them drive their businesses forwards. 

So, what does this mean for the world of L&D?

Well, by creating a diverse and inclusive learning environment where learners are interacting with a diverse group of people, they are more like to explore differences and work through varying perspectives to develop their thinking and outcomes.

A face to face workshop may contain a cohort who already work together, have a pre-existing group dynamic, or have similar roles or parallel backgrounds/experience. When posed with a challenge, the group are likely to find themselves thinking in similar ways to tackle the problem. This route to thinking is likely to be convergent, rather than divergent. This makes the idea pool potentially limited and restricted.

On the other hand, virtual training can connect individuals from across the globe, bringing together different backgrounds, roles and organisations in a diverse group. Learners bring unique and differing perspectives to the group, creating a much larger pool of available information, skills, approaches and experience. This diverse and inclusive learning environment allows others to tap into that rich mix and together, generate creative ideas to work through and explore. 

Will Burns says in his article, “The most important diversity is that of thinking.” He discusses how organisers of major brainstorming sessions often mistakenly focus only on the number of people in the workshop and not on optimising the blend of people. It is the mixing of learners, their talents, expertise and experience that can make idea generation exponential.

The bottom line is that we should be embracing and encouraging diversity and difference in our workshops. Promote an inclusive learning environment by trying out a virtual approach. Encourage your learners’ varied palettes of experience and expertise to add to the richness of your virtual training workshops. Your colleagues will learn not only from their trainers but from the differences of each other.

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