Avoiding Bias in Learning Experience Design

Bias is innate in humans, and sometimes it naturally creeps into the work we do and experiences we create, even including learning design. How much does that really matter—can a hint of unintended bias actually impact learners? As with other parts of life, bias can indeed have a detrimental effect in learning and performance. In fact, it can create aversion toward a course and a general lack of trust in the rest of the training program, if not the organization itself. Instructional designers occasionally need to take a step back and consider how their learner profiles are being represented. In the modern workforce, people from diverse cultures, generations, genders, and geographies are all accessing online learning in order to succeed in their professions.

Avoiding Bias in Learning Experience Design

Instructional designers today aim to be inclusive when creating learning content, and avoid using stereotypes that affect views, opinions, and decisions. They should be mindful of gender, race, and color bias, and aspire to represent the full range of human diversity in their courses. People’s identities around race, gender, color, and culture shape how they feel about themselves and how they treat others. But training courses often cater to a global audience and should rise above any harmful preconceptions.

In today’s polarized culture, what is an organization to do to promote inclusion and create effective learning that resonates with a diverse workforce? Here are some best practices for designing bias-free learning experiences.

Choose the right images

Diversity is the key when adding images to an online course or even an instructor-led training. There should be a fair representation of all ethnicities and age groups. A good balance can be achieved by using the same percentage of male and female characters and a mix of all ethnic groups. Ensure that within each group, both younger and older generations are represented. Attention to details like skin color, body type, hairstyles, and clothing can enable learning to include all people.

Script realistic scenarios

Scenarios help to liven up a course by adding a relatable, human touch. Examples of what happened to real people and solutions to real problems can better engage learners. Instructional designers should not rely on hypotheticals or assume their own experiences are applicable. Asking learners to share their daily challenges and outcomes before initiating a design can be a great way to craft meaningful lessons. The scenarios should be relevant to a global audience and have a broad spectrum so that learners from different cultures can feel emotionally connected.

Respect cultural differences

In our globalized marketplace, learners from different countries or cultures may be accessing courses, so designers should be mindful not to include any religious references, icons, or assumptions. It is best to avoid cliches and colloquialisms that may make sense in one language but cause confusion in another. The tone and choice of vocabulary while scripting the storyboard should obviously remain respectful. If budget permits, localization of courses is a great way to adapt learning to regional markets. Otherwise, a good practice would be to include translation tools, allowing learners to translate content to their preferred language within the user interface.

Address multi-generational learners

The workforce now spans many generations, from Gen Z to Boomers; and learners may have varying technical skills. Learning design should address this digital divide and accommodate all abilities. Instructional designers may be prone to design for millennials utilizing social learning and terms that may not resonate with older learners. It is easy to have one generation in mind when designing learning. However, the challenge is to know your audience and design accordingly. Also consider at which point learners may feel confused and require adequate information in help screens so they can complete the course successfully.

Make learning accessible for all

A particular unintended bias in learning design is the assumption that all people have the same ability to access and experience content, despite the fact that millions of workers have some sort of visual, hearing, cognitive, or other impairment preventing them from fully engaging. Courses today should be accessible to everyone, including differently abled learners. Designers should strive for compliance with various accessibility guidelines for digital learning. For example, where applicable, all images should have alt text image descriptions for visually challenged learners. Highlight colors used should follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Online courses with audio should have closed-captioned text options for learners with hearing impairments. Animations and videos should include audio descriptions.

With organizations increasingly affirming their commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, training programs should match this commitment in the representation of all employees while avoiding biased and outdated assumptions. To find out more about creating inclusive and representative learning experiences, email kelly.lake@kwglobal.com.