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Creating DEI learning content that sticks

Studies have shown (time and time again) that traditional diversity, equity, and inclusion (#DEI) learning programs fail. Short, check-the-box trainings don't do much to create behavior change. But learning principles and neuroscience also tell us that today, the average human attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish.

What to do with limited time and attention

As a part of my role I project manage and develop content and tools that support our teams in transforming awareness of DEI concepts into application and action. I've been increasingly curious about how make concepts and learning "sticky," even when teams (especially our retail and part-time employees) only have a few minutes to spare.

I got to thinking about the #socialmedia phenomenon of re-sharing or re-posting content that resonates with us, and the fact that a simple post or graphic can be shared thousands of times. Recent research related to the use of social media content to drive awareness and action during the ongoing COVID pandemic has shown that viral content can raise pro-social behaviours, and ultimately affect our decisions.

It is important to remember that we all have the responsibility to ensure that our acts of allyship aren’t performative, go beyond social media, and that the information we share is accurate and reliable. And the same applies with this sort of learning tool.

But, if you can create content that is emotionally resonate, it is possible to promote learning and inquiry that leads to behavior change. With this in mind, as well as the benefits of micro-learning, I took some inspiration from one of my favorite Instagram accounts, @newhappyco, and created these graphics to illustrate concepts shared in a recent educational toolkit our team made on the origins and implications of bias.

Impact of content that allows for self-interpretation

Though simple, these illustrations pack a punch. Even if the learner or facilitator doesn't have an hour to dive into the full toolkit, they can pull up a graphic, share the related concept definition, and spark conversation. I modelled this delivery method in a space our team holds weekly for learning and unlearning. The conversation was powerful, and also created a safe space for sharing perspective that helped to model the behavior of speaking from "I" over sharing a more generalized point of view.

The beauty of asking people on the call to share their own reactions and interpretations of each graphic is that every person that shared had a different interpretation. Importantly, there is no right or wrong interpretation. As I held the space I didn't congratulate anyone for seeing the graphic in the way that I created it or for interpreting it in a way that was consistent what I meant to evoke.

I had my own realization in that space, that I was also able to share and furthered the learning experience. As the artist, what I created was a culmination of my own identity, experiences, and biases. The design decisions I made and the symbolism and visual cues I chose came from my own interpretation. How individuals interpreted the art was just the same (quite similar to the graphic on perception).

What I've learned

My takeaways from this first peak into the impact of this content are:

  1. DEI learning becomes sticky when we create a safe space for the learner to:

  2. interpret and create meaning from their own perspectives and lived experiences; and

  3. be open to receive the perspectives and lived experiences of other learners in the room.

  4. If we set up the space appropriately, we can let the above connection be powerful within itself and not over-complicate with:

  5. highly-facilitated and scripted training;

  6. or overly detailed resources.

With this in mind, I'll leave you with a few areas of inquiry:

  1. How might traditional formats and learning delivery get in the way of creating communities of practice that acknowledge the whole person and build capacity to change behavior?

  2. Who aren't we considering when creating learning content and journeys, and who's comfort are we prioritizing?

  3. What can unlock or shift for learners when the facilitator or content owner de-centers themself (ie. learning and development teams, training professionals, DEI practicionners, etc.) as the expert in the space?

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