Director of Global Business The Open University
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Can digital learning be a catalyst for diversity and inclusion?

When we think about tackling workplace diversity and inclusion, actions such as removing unconscious bias from recruitment practices or creating a more psychologically safe culture spring to mind. Little consideration has been given to the impact that digital learning and development has on driving inclusion – but could this actually be the hidden key to a thriving, diverse workforce? 

8th Oct 2019
Director of Global Business The Open University
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While diversity and inclusion have been a strategic business priority for many years now, the focus has largely been on improving recruitment, retention and workplace environments. But research shows that employers need to broaden out their approach because the biggest barrier to diversity and inclusion is now advancement, with women and ethnic minority groups in particular not progressing in the workplace as easily or as quickly as their peers.

Can this situation be remedied with better access to learning? 

Digital learning is the hidden key

A recent report by the Open University in conjunction with TrainingZone argues that, in order to have truly diverse and inclusive workplaces, employers need to leverage technology that increases access to learning and builds a culture of lifelong, self-directed learning.

When such technology is deployed effectively in organisations, it enables employees from all walks of life to learn new skills and behaviours to connect with colleagues throughout their organisation. 

Individuals are already very aware of the potential of digital learning. They know that it can equip them with new skills and qualifications and that doing so will help them thrive in their role and seek out new opportunities..

Research from the L&D research and analysis organisation Towards Maturity shows that individuals with diverse backgrounds are using digital learning to help advance their career. The research found that:

  • 80% are turning to digital learning to improve their career prospects, with 57% wanting learning to contribute to a professional qualification

  • 89% are trying to raise their game by downloading apps to educate themselves or to improve productivity, with over 50% wanting to improve their professionalism

  • 47% are taking control of how and when they learn, addressing time barriers to learning by learning at weekends and evenings, with 57% investing their own money to supplement their training in work-related skills

  • 69% are motivated by technologies that allow them to network and connect with others

Breaking down barriers with learning technology

Digital learning takes many forms but, at its heart, comprises any form of tech-enabled learning. It is typically easy to access and consume, and because of this it opens up new possibilities for learners.

In our work, helping more than 2,400 employers reskill and upskill their workforces, we find that digital learning breaks down barriers, fosters peer-to-peer learning and creates environments that allow people to grow their skills, experiences and knowledge.

It also enables people to take control of their own learning as it gives them choice over what they learn, when they learn and how they learn. The learning could consist of  watching a video or accessing an online library – or it could be something more communal, such as taking part in an online simulation with peers or sharing information on an online platform.

Virtual reality is an increasingly popular form of digital learning, partly because it’s engaging and interactive, but also because it enables participants to learn and test out new skills and behaviours in a safe environment. Online labs that replicate real life technical environments are another example of this kind of immersive, but safe learning. 

Social learning platforms have really taken off in recent years and are a hugely popular and effective form of digital learning. They enable employers to widen the access to learning and to spread learning throughout their organisation.

These platforms bring people together, encouraging collaboration and the sharing of information and learning. They can also raise the visibility of employees, helping them to feel that they have a voice and belong to their organisation.

Four ways to drive inclusion

These new, innovative solutions to learning have very real benefits for individuals and organisations, enhancing four key capabilities. These learning solutions can:

  1. Open opportunity – creating access for all

  2. Uniquely adapt – delivering personalised experiences that deliver personal value

  3. Provide permission – to practice, fail, reflect and grow

  4. Cultivate inclusion – providing a safe environment to contribute and explore

It’s time to shift the focus

Diversity and inclusion have been on the corporate agenda for so long, but insufficient progress has been made.

The solution to this slow headway lies in embracing the possibilities and realities of digital learning and not just thinking about diversity and inclusion in terms of recruitment, retention and the workplace environment. 

When used effectively, digital learning creates a learning democracy, enabling all individuals to access the learning and skills development they need to succeed at work and achieve their full potential. It enables cross working and the cross fertilisation of skills that leads to truly dynamic, inclusive workplaces. 

Find out more about creating inclusive workplaces using learning technologies in our full report.

Replies (1)

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Dr Valeria Lo Iacono - business trainer
By Symonds Training
20th Oct 2019 14:19

I definitely feel that digital learning plays a massive role in corporate learning from a layman's perspective. From my experience, I have definitely seen employees who otherwise might have missed out of training (for a variety of reasons) have been able to get training and to thrive.

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