Learner Diversity and Inclusion in Online Learning Design, Development, and Deployment for #SIDLIT2019

Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew, ITS, Kansas State University

  • August 1-2, 2019
  • This presentation was first created for Penn State University, by invitation, and presented in May 2019. This has since been revised lightly.

Warm-up Activity

Please consider the following sentence starts... and think about how you might complete these sentences, based on your own experiences.

  1. "American students from the Deep South" tend to ...
  2. Students from abroad from this "(fill in the blank)" country generally ...
  3. Freshman students on work study programs seem inclined to...
  4. Elite student athletes on campus seem to...
  5. Students from the Greek system tend to...
  6. Graduate students from this "(fill in the blank)" discipline have a habit of...

Did some ideas come to mind? And how accurate do you think your mental assertions might be? And why? Do you know what informs your sense of these subgroups of learners?

Which of these generalizations are positive and constructive, and which of these are negative and non-constructive? How can such fleeting impressions be used?

"Stereotypes" are about shorthand about other people's identities. They involve conflating a dimension or two of a person with the image of a whole person. Oftentimes, these shortchange the sense of who a whole person is and can be.

Are there ways to keep such impressions hypothetical and provisional (and not infused with certitude)? How should we work hard to ensure fair and just and welcoming treatment of all?

Human identity dimensionalities...

“All knowledge is related to who you are and where you come from” is part of open space principles (Andreotti, 2006, as cited in Brown & Warwick, 2019, p. 351).
  • Demographics: age, gender, race, ethnicity, class, and others
  • Beliefs: religious beliefs
  • Lifestyles/Orientations:
  • Cultures:
  • Nationalities:
  • Languages:
  • Professions:
  • And others:

“Intersectionalities” refers to sets of correlated human identity dimensionalities (social categorizations, social roles) and potentially “creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage” (“intersectionality” in Google Dictionary online)

Multi-membership points to the idea that each person is a member of (or identifies with) a number of social groups and communities. In each of those groups and communities, the individual enacts similar and different parts of their personalities. (This comes from identity theory.) People take on a number of structured roles in society, and in these roles, they develop a sense of self-identity and value. (This comes from social identity theory.)

Activity: Owning my diversities...

My story... and my "diversities" and "communities"...are...


As a learner, I prefer...


When people who do not know me first meet me, they assume...


Applied diversity and inclusion: The "other" is "us"

“Diversity” means engaging with other people respectfully and fairly as individuals, wherever they are and whoever they are, without applying stereotypes (“negative” or “positive”) and without “othering”. Human “diversities” are multi-dimensional, relating to demographics (age, gender, race, ethnicity, class, and others), beliefs (faiths and practices), lifestyles/orientations, cultures, nationalities, languages, professions, and other aspects. Each aspect informs a person’s development and worldview.

“Inclusion” means engaging socially (through listening and understanding empathically, through sharing) and respectfully and giving others a fair shake in interactions. Effective inclusion requires taking responsibility to learn about others in the world and to not take a defensive position about one’s own identity or tribe only. (This is about “costly signaling” with actual effort and not just “cheap talk.”) The “golden rule” of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you…applies. Inclusion means providing the same opportunities for learning for all. This is about being broadly accommodating and welcoming of learners in their real world complexity. (People do not have to be likeable to be treated well.)

Both "diversity" and "inclusion" are core democratic values in pluralistic and modern societies. These values underpin relatively stable, productive, socially harmonious / prosocial, and advancing societies.

A minimal approach involves ensuring that pre-conceived notions of others are corrected...and that fair and egalitarian treatment of others is applied in all circumstances.

A more "activist" approach to diversity and inclusion involves empowering learners to achieve "critical consciousness" and to better express their own agency and power and voices...for personal advancements and general emancipatory political effect.

Diversity and inclusion in online learning contents

“Student diversity” is defined as including “complex configurations that can include race, ethnicity, culture, religion, spirituality, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, social class, language, citizenship, and so on—any of which can be more or less salient at any given moment depending on context” (Higbee, Schultz, & Goff, 2010, pp. 49 – 50). In addition, there are factors like learning preferences and perceptual diversity features.

In a learning design context, “diversity” and “inclusion” mean the following (and more):

  1. enabling a wide range of flexible types of learning (to address respective learner needs) and not creating exclusionary learning (that excludes by language, by assignments, by experiences, by requirements, or other design aspects)
  2. creating safe learning spaces where a wide variety of ideas and practices can be explored without bigotry (intolerance towards others with different opinions)
  3. deploying cognitive scaffolding supports to learners with varying needs
  4. building in universal design strategies and tactics for full web accessibility
  5. vetting learning objectives/outcomes, digital contents, assignments, activities, social learning, assessments…and actualized teaching and learning…for non-neutral and non-respectful approaches (to be as inclusive of all people as much as possible)
  6. adapting learning to learner needs equitably and reasonably to accommodate unique learner needs
  7. addressing unfairnesses as they arise in the teaching and learning context to enable a safe learning environment
  8. using "neutral" representations of other peoples (and sub-groups), languages, cultures, nations, and practices (without hidden negative or biasing stereotypes) and never applying ridicule or diminishment to others, and
  9. having the same high expectations for learning performance of all (not shorting expectations based on aspects of the person)
  10. avoiding stereotypes or mental shortcuts in "profiling" learners (and letting learners define themselves)
  11. keeping channels of communications open with learners, so their unique needs may be brought to the fore and addressed (and constantly updating to address learner needs)
  12. building learning with diverse teams and diverse inputs for quality

[About "neutrality," about non-representation, about strategic ambiguity (forms of avoidance): Some would suggest that there is no such thing as "neutrality" in representation. An alternative is non-representation of the learners (and / or of people in the scenes), such as direct address of learners without direct depictions of people. But even with such indirection, there are implied representations. For example, the language used to address the assumed learner will reveal some details.]

The “online learning” may refer to a variety of contexts:

  • Face-to-face (F2F)
  • Blended or hybrid (F2F and online in one learning sequence)
  • Fully online
  • the “high-tech high-touch” model in American higher education
  • massive open online courses (with instructors and small group leaders, and some automated tutoring)
  • fully automated
  • open-entry, open-exit, and numerous others

A winning approach to the world: diversity and inclusion

“We live in a world that is now more connected than ever. At the same time, the world population is geographically shifting, exerting pressure on nations and individuals as proximity and contact increases among individuals from diverse backgrounds. Such changes have brought forth the challenges of how to coexist, collaborate, and progress both as diverse individuals with significant cultural heritages, backgrounds, and experiences, and as members of the same society.” Richard A. Fabes, Carol Lynn Martin, and Laurda D. Hanish (2018, p. 1)
  1. Diversity and inclusion enable more egalitarianism and individual and group opportunities in pluralistic societies (and the world). These skills enable people to better adapt to a complex world.
  2. Diversity and inclusion enable social progress and increased social participation. The more people in a society activated and empowered to contribute, optimally, the stronger the society.
  3. Diversity and inclusion enable diversities of ideas, research, methods, and advances. They enable increased “value creation” (in commercial contexts) (Fang, Francis, & Hasan, 2018).
  4. Diversity and inclusion enable more peaceable engagement with others. Civil interactions between peoples enable people to coexist and collaborate.

In teaching and learning contexts, diversity and inclusion enhance the teaching and learning, make better teachers, and raise the adaptivity of the curriculums.

Debunking some central myths

A common myth is that “diversity contravenes meritocracy” (Kang & Kaplan, 2019, p. 580). The research suggests that “so-called meritocracies are not so meritocratic” (p. 580). Mass-scale historical societal biases leave generational marks on peoples, and righting past wrongs is one way to try to create a more balanced playing field. Beyond systematic change, individual actions can have powerful impacts.

Another myth is that human achievement is zero sum and limited ("your gain is my loss"); rather, people can all thrive in many ways. Differences are not necessarily oppositional nor in conflict nor in competition.

Diversity and inclusion are about treating others fairly, not about taking a “dominated (losing) strategy” in interacting with others. This is not about taking the short end of the stick but about creating an overall winning approach for the self and others.

Mere exposures of people from different cultures to each other do not necessarily increase understandings or lower prejudice or stereotyping. How the differences are handled may affect the individual and social outcomes. Social and interpersonal tensions will often exist between people from different cultural backgrounds because of the differing assumptions that people bring to the interactions.

Another myth is that we are giving ground when we reach out to others in understanding, care, and empathy. This outreach and care are effortful, but they make us stronger as people. Understanding others frameworks makes us better as individuals.

Historically…some definitions…

“Diversity training” originated in the 1980s to address “racism, sexism, and intergroup conflict” to increase work efficiencies (Paige & Martin, 1996, p. 42).

“Inclusivity” is an approach that considers the varied needs of diverse learners and strives to address their needs in order to enable the most effective learning. [By contrast, design exclusion refers to when a designed object “places demands on the end user that the user does not have the capability to meet” (Clarkson, Dong, & Keates, 2003, p. 422).]

“Inclusive design,” though, does not accept the concept of the “average user” as mythical and misleading. The idea of proper design is to set the design goals at the beginning and to build appropriately to those goals instead of applying poor designs and then having to add accommodations and redesigns and retrofits. (Hai-Jew, 2010)

Inclusive learning “does not discriminate against anybody in terms of educational strategies” (Bel & Bradburn, 2008, p. 25). [You don’t want to create more problems while solving some.]

Instruction design (ID) refers to the purposeful and systematic design and development of instructional materials and learning experiences to make “the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing” (Merrill, Drake, Lacy, Pratt, & the ID2 Research Group, 1966, p. 2).

Some tips to setting up to design for diversity and inclusion

  1. Define standards early. Define the standards for the online teaching and learning early on, so that these standards may inform the design, development, deployment, pilot testing (alpha and beta testing), and usage. These should include standards for intellectual property, learner privacy protections, media law, accessibility, academic domain standards, data protections, diversity, inclusion, and others.
  2. Consider whole learners. Build in standards to consider the well-being of the “whole learner” as diverse individuals and inclusiveness. For example, use a diversity of human representations in the curriculum. (Representations are highly contested spaces.) Ensure that a variety of relevant stories are told and examples are given. Build learning activities that are social and mutually respectful. Build ways for the instructor to model diversity and inclusiveness.
  3. Select learning resources for variety--in content, points-of-view, modalities, and other aspects. When selecting research readings, do not just select those with perfect language fluencies but those with strength of research and insight. Select contents from around the world.
  4. Ensure that all learners have equal opportunities to participate and contribute (do not go to the same learners every time for feedback or commenting).
  5. Build in sufficient flexibility and adaptivity to accommodate unique learner needs as needed (and / or be ready to build these on-the-fly on-demand). (Where relevant, do some simple learner profiling to understand who you are building the learning to.) Build some assignments with learner design elements, for power sharing. Be aware of “privilege” and the assumptions of privilege. Do not speak “over members of historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups” (Chesler, 2019, p. 3).
  6. Some works challenge the heteronormal point-of-view of the world in education and how that sidelines and oppresses those of the LGBTIQ community (lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex, and queer) (Magnus & Lundin, 2016, p. 76).
  7. Think about individual learners as individuals...and then expand their context to harness the resources at each of the levels out. Inclusive design places learners in the center, with their own “abilities, aspirations, beliefs, dispositions, etc.” In the microsystem (the next circle out) are the individual’s classroom, family, teachers, and social circle. Then there is a meso system, an exo system, and the macro system (defined as “beliefs and ideologies of the culture”). These levels interact in order to support the learners’ learning (Smith, Hayes, & Lyons, 2016, p. 4).
  8. Create safe learning environments. Avoid creating negative emotions in learners through design because those can shut down learning and learners. Some challenges may be created for learners in safe environments, but the safety should not be compromised. (Learners develop resilience with the proper types of challenges. This is not about mollycoddling.)
  9. Design for control and lack of control. Understand that the design of online learning is about some level of control but also a lack of control. Part of the work is about creating a learning environment in which certain potentials are enabled…like certain interactions and discussions. Part of the preparation means that the instructor (and content expert) needs to be able to address a wide range of potentialities in terms of how they lead a class.
  10. Plan. Create a plan to achieve these standards. (For example, will the “diversity” and “inclusion” be addressed in a stand-alone lecture or module? Will it be mentioned in the syllabus? Will it be infused in the online learning materials?)
  11. Document. Maintain accurate documentation of the work throughout. Keep clear records about where contents have come from. Be able to trace-back to original sources, in case there is a need to find these in the future.
  12. Design – assess – develop. When creating multimedia contents, create the scripts first, and have them vetted for learning…and also for diversity and inclusivity. Think through production and the talent brought on to projects. Ensure proper diversity of representations. Make sure that the design and plan are solid before going to development because of the high costs of development and the high costs of revisions and retrofits.
  13. Enable flexibility through maintaining proper sets of raw contents. Keep pristine sets of raw files of all digital learning contents, in order to be able to re-edit and re-create, as needed. (Be sure to keep accurate records of media releases and other contractual agreements. New uses require new releases, oftentimes.)
  14. Select technologies with care. Ensure that the technologies meet accessibility requirements…and that the content built using those technologies are built accessibly. Ensure that the technologies are built by solid companies that will exist into the near-term and even mid-term futures.
  15. Maintain learning content accuracy and learning standards. Do not compromise informational contents; stay accurate. Maintain learning standards.
  16. Conduct alpha (α) tests. Set up the alpha tests to the defined standards (and any new standards that come online after the design and development have started).
  17. Conduct beta (β) tests. Set up the beta tests to the defined standards, with live learners…standing in for future actual learners. Ensure that the learning is user-centered and understandable by learners.
  18. Revise. Revise the digital contents and learning sequences and other elements accordingly. (Once the course is deployed, keep a finger on the pulse of the learners. Elicit their feedback and take it seriously to update the contents.)
  19. Assess. Examine the performance patterns from the learner performances. Analyze the acquired knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs). The multiple cultural model takes more of an outcomes approach, and it “promotes equity of outcomes for learners, particularly learners from disadvantaged minority groups” (Henderson, 1996, p. 94). This approach was evolved from work by multiple researchers: Reeves, 1992; Henderson, 1994, and Henderson, 1996 (p. 96). In the grade data (and other metrics), are there discrepancies between learners? Learner groups? Why? Are there systemic issues leading to disparities in performance? If there are barriers, what are these, and how may these be addressed?
  20. Understand learners. Just prior to the start of a course and during its start, it helps to elicit learner backgrounds through various means to better meet their needs (Newell, Gregor, Morgan, Pullin, & Macaulay, 2010, p. 235). Customize the learning to each learner. Acknowledge each learner and meet them where they are at. Suspend judgment about them. Never be dismissive.

A typical work sequence

A Simple Work Sequence for Diversity Inclusion Design for Online Learning
  1. Design: needs assessment/gaps analysis, research, design, storyboarding, work documentation, (paper) prototyping
  2. Development: digital content creation, assignment development
  3. Testing: alpha testing, beta testing (for revision)
  4. Revision: corrections, updating to standards, learner usability
  5. Deployment: uploading to online learning systems, teaching, data analysis
  6. Feedback Collection: learner feedback elicitation, co-teacher feedback elicitation, data analysis
  7. New Revisions / Retrofitting: redesign and redevelopment

As a side note, there are technological tools to measure the amount of “inclusion” designed and developed into learning objects [involving “writing predictors and orthography correctors” to “increase the success of data input to learning objects” (Guenaga, Mechaca, Romero, & Eguíluz, 2012, p. 152).]

There are ways to map social networks for diversity and inclusion (Karimi & Matous, 2018), through social network analysis.

Some elements of online learning designs…with varying levels of designer-developer control

Design is about intentionality and control... The idea is to control what you can even a little ways out into the world on issues that are not in direct grasp.

Teaching is about dynamism and taking things as they come... Much of teaching and learning is outside the control of the teacher / content expert / instructional designer, and it is important to acknowledge that. Teachers learn to play issues by ear in live contexts, and they are able to address issues as they arise. It is important to be able to address surprises as they arise.

Some Elements of Online Learning Designs: Direct and Indirect Affordances When Going Live

Diversity and Inclusion Design

Some interventions for learner dimensionalities (in interactive "slideshows")

...for Demographics

Directions: Click on the short slideshow below to access some ideas. Then, you can use your forwards and backwards arrows to navigate.

Inclusion Design for Demographics

...for Culture

Directions: Click on the short slideshow below to access some ideas. Then, you can use your forwards and backwards arrows to navigate.

Inclusion Design for Culture

for Languages...

Directions: Click on the short slideshow below to access some ideas. Then, you can use your forwards and backwards arrows to navigate.

Inclusion Design for Language(s)

...for Learning Preferences

Directions: Click on the short slideshow below to access some ideas. Then, you can use your forwards and backwards arrows to navigate.

Inclusion Design for Learning Preferences

...for Accessibility

Directions: Click on the short slideshow below to access some ideas. Then, you can use your forwards and backwards arrows to navigate.

Inclusion Design for Accessibility

...for whole learners...and whole teachers...

Some caveats:

This is not to say that challenging learning should not be taken on. This is not to say that "adversarial" learning (debates, case studies, role plays, and others) cannot be harnessed for learning. This is not to say that the teacher cannot be an agent provocateur (for learning ends and the greater good, without gratuitous provocation, and in general "good taste"). This is not to say that learning cannot be uncomfortable, for all involved (just not unrelentingly uncomfortable). This is not to say that learners should not be called out for inappropriate behaviors.

This is to say that diversity and inclusion are valuable. Mutual respect and civility enable more complex and socially risky explorations and discussions. They enable people to evolve to better selves, individually and together.

This is not to say that instructional designers can start from scratch with the online learning build in every case. In many, they can just come alongside a subject matter expert and make incremental changes...while continuing to build professional trust relationships...and while not taking on the full responsibility of evolving learning contents and resources.

Assignment tasking

Design a task for yourself that is somewhat effortful to increase the diversity and inclusion design of a learning object or lesson or assessment for which you’re responsible. Try out the revised learning contents or assignment or assessment, and measure how effective it is. Talk to your students, and find out whether they enjoyed the learning or not.

Bonus Question: How do various academic domains address issues of diversity and inclusion? (Think STEM fields. Think social sciences. Think humanities.) Why? Which are most effective, and why? What are ways that entities in these respective domains can strengthen their efforts?


So building diversity and inclusion awareness into online learning requires hard work and savvy. Efforts have to go beyond “cheap talk” and into “costly signaling” to positive learning experiences of learners and objectively measurable learning results.

To recap:

Inclusion extends beyond the notion of diversity. Inclusion activities create organizational structures that advance communications, foster advanced decision making, and mitigate power differentiation between and among diverse individuals and groups. Inclusion results in enriched perspectives and creativity central to the purpose of becoming educated in a pluralistic academic culture (Bleich, MacWilliams, & Schmidt, Mar. / Apr. 2015, p. 89)

In the literature, there are cautions. One important one is that “the mere availability of diverse others does not necessarily lead to inclusion and positive intergroup attitudes”; rather, there have to be proper awareness and designed engagements to help people interact constructively and learn from “dissimilar others” (Brown & Juvonen, 2018, p. 75).

Transculturalism studies provide deeper insights about how people may engage constructively and potentially co-create composite cultures.

There are plenty of studies about how multimedia design elements may evoke positive or negative emotions (Heidig, Müller, & Reichelt, 2015).

A number of works show that accommodating different students in their diversities have to happen in “different ways” (Jahn, Heise, Schneider, & Günther, 2017). In terms of learner groups, there is research about particular subgroups like “student top athletes” and “part-time students with professional background” (Jahn, Heise, Schneider, & Günther, 2017, p. 158), with some similar needs and some differing ones. At core, teachers play critical roles, with empirical findings indicating congruence between teacher cultural diversity beliefs and their culturally responsive teaching (Civitillo, Juang, Badra, & Schachner, 2019).

Three afternoon challenges

Diversity and inclusion as a dynamic space...


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  • Bleich, M.R., MacWilliams, B.R., & Schmidt, B.J. (2015, Mar./Apr.). Advancing diversity through inclusive excellence in nursing education. Journal of Professional Nursing, 31(2), 89 – 94.
  • Brown, C.S., & Juvonen, J. (2018). Insights about the effects of diversity: When does diversity promote inclusion and for whom? Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 59, 75 – 81.
  • Brown, R., & Warwick, P. (2019). Civic learning in conversation: The common ground of difference. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 31, 346 – 353.
  • Chesler, N.C. (2019). A how-to guide for promoting diversity and inclusion in biomedical engineering. Annals of Biomedical Engineering. 1 – 4.
  • Civitillo, S., Juang, L.P., Badra, M., & Schachner, M.K. (2019). The interplay between culturally responsive teaching, cultural diversity beliefs, and self-reflection: A multiple case study. Teaching and Teacher Education, 77, 341 – 351.
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  • Fang, Y., Francis, B., & Hasan, I. (2018). Differences make a difference: Diversity in social learning and value creation. Journal of Corporate Finance, 48, 474 – 491.
  • Guenaga, M., Mechaca, I., Romero, S., & Eguíluz, A. (2012). A tool to evaluate the level of inclusion of digital learning objects. In the proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Software Development for Enhancing Accessibility and Fighting Info-exclusion (DSAI 2012). Procedia Computer Science, 14, 148 – 154.
  • Hai-Jew, S. (2017, Nov. 8 – 9). Online learning design for diversity and inclusion. (long version) In the proceedings of 2017 Kansas CUPA-HR Conference. Kansas State University. Retrieved Mar. 2, 2019, from https://www.slideshare.net/ShalinHaiJew/online-learning-design-for-diversity-and-inclusion.
  • Heidig, S., Müller, J., & Reichelt, M. (2015). Emotional design in multimedia learning: Differentiation on relevant design features and their effects on emotions and learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 44, 81 – 95.
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Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew, Instructional Designer

  • ITS, Kansas State University
  • shalin@k-state.edu
  • 785-532-5262
Created By
Shalin Hai-Jew