Last week I talked about a horrible example I took part in where learning was not at all accessible. Butterflies in my stomach were only one of my symptoms I was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong instructor.
Here are 10 examples of how I’ve made learning more accessible and continue to do so for every single workshop I teach.
10 examples of how to increase access
- Culture: One of the biggest factors in making learning accessible is addressing cultural issues. If you have various religions represented amongst your participants the timing of the breaks can really influence how accessible the learning is (for example Muslims need to pray at specific times of the day).
- Physical ability: My workshops always include experiential learning but this doesn’t mean I go all out and do aerobics in Lycra. I always ask about physical ability when I first work with a client, asking if there’s anything that would affect participants ability to physically participate.
- Tit for tat (virtual): when I run focus groups or ask people to fill in a survey I always give something back, because I want people to feel acknowledged for what they’re giving me (aka their knowledge, information, perspective). My surveys always have a little surprise at the end to thank people, sometimes it’s a funny video, and sometimes it’s a resource.
- Tit for tat (real life): when I did evaluation work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES)(Vancouver’s poorest postal code) I made sure to give back when asking for information. For example at one event I had a big beautiful basket full of chocolate brownies, which every woman who filled in a survey got one plus a chance to win tickets to an event. I first learned about doing this from a workshop with evaluation expert Michael Quinn Patton, who talked about doing a focus group with sex trade workers who he invited to sit in lounge chairs in a circle while getting manicures.
- Skill building: once again, in the DTES, when doing program evaluation, I always looked for ways to not only creatively gather data but to help build the women’s skills. As a result we did program evaluation using quilting, storytelling, scrapbooking and more. Women responded much better telling their stories while they were working on a quilt square than being asked to fill in an official form.
- Ownership and permission; when I’m doing interviews with participants I always let them know they can read the notes I’m taking and edit them if need be. This really helps when working in delicate situations with sensitive information.
- Anonymous vs. confidentiality; when I’m doing prep work for designing workshops, especially if the participants are having conflict and the atmosphere is conflicted, I’m really careful to ensure anonymity and I explain the difference between that and confidentiality. That is, I explain that I may use quotes from what they tell me in the workshop but that all identifying information will be removed.
- Food; “A hungry belly has no ears” (Greek proverb). Depending on what I’m teaching, where and for how long, food can play a big role and along with it cultural, religious, sensitivities, and political issues.
- Trauma-informed; with our understanding of the prevalence and impact of trauma. It’s important to be trauma-informed while designing and teaching workshops. I always assume that no matter who I’m teaching, that at least one person will have experienced trauma. As a result, I don’t force people to close their eyes during an exercise (as closing one’s eyes in public can be a trigger), but rather give the option, to let their gaze soften and look up or down. When I ask people to move around the room for activities I always assure them that they’ll go back to their seat (as people who’ve experienced trauma can have carefully selected their seat, e.g. back to a wall, and having to move can be a trigger).
- Music; I almost always play music in my workshops but I always let participants know they are in charge of the tunes, they can change the music, turn it up, turn it down or turn it off. This led to a poignant moment once where a participant asked me to change the song, as it was a painful reminder of a relationship that had broken up.
Once you focus on issues of access, inclusion is the result. And once people feel included all sorts of lovely things happen like:
- Participants feel more relaxed and welcomed
- Learning opens up and is made possible (as opposed to worrying about where your hands are!)
- People can contribute and that makes for better learning and a better world for all
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead.
Find out more about how culture affects teaching: Remember when you stood with a ruler between your nose & theirs? How culture influences teaching.
Not that you or I would EVER have been involved in such a silly argument but check out the silent window war video on this page. Talk about not feeling included. And the ridiculousness that ensues.
Culture is such a big part of access and inclusion, download my cultural iceberg worksheet and complete it for your own culture.
Love most of your ideas. Great concepts. Except, the food.. in this day and age filled with people with food sensitivities, dietary restrictions etc. It could actually be viewed negatively. Brownies for example – What about your gluten intolerant, diabetic, and/or nutritional restriction individuals? As someone with a couple of these issues, while it’s something that I’ve had to grow used to at meetings and trainings (all the pastries and sugary items, the fruits that are the highest in sugar, etc.) it still irks. Being told by professional peers that “I think you’re being a little too sensitive about this… You ARE in the minority after all… they can’t really cater to every single little dietary issue – that gets expensive. What, do you want them to just not offer food at all?” Well, not to be snotty here, but… yeah kind of. I mean, there are tons of non-food ways to say thanks for participating, and if you can’t afford to address dietary constraints, then perhaps allotting additional break times or a longer lunch hour and having events near food vendors that have a variety of options is better in the long run to increase inclusivity? After all, if you can make time for folks to pray, you can make time for folks to eat what is safe for them. Just a thought.
Thanks for commenting Lisa. I totally agree, that’s why I said “food can play a big role and along with it cultural, religious, sensitivities, and political issues.” Food is a tricky issue and you’ve outlined some very good reasons why.