Blended Learning: How to Create the Best DEI Education
Over the past 17 years as a DEI practitioner, I’ve worked across many industries — from professional sports with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee to an engineering-focused Fortune 500 with FM Global — on their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Most organizations know that training their team is critical to their DEI strategy, but whether their organization is composed of the world’s best athletes or a more traditional corporate structure, many face the same challenges. How do they set their teams up for success? How do they meet employees where they are? And how can they help ensure training actually works?
Beyond Great DEI Content
Most companies striving to upskill their employees with the tools they need to foster more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces primarily focus on developing top-notch content. While designing top-tier content is critical to the strength of DEI education, strong content alone is not enough. Organizations also need to decide how they’re going to implement learning, and what role different delivery methods should play in providing an ongoing learning journey. You need the right tactics.
This is where a blended learning approach comes into play. It’s a diversified approach to impactful learning and it strengthens your position while warding off any potential single point of failure. It delivers measurable results.
The Benefits of Different Learning Approaches
Across Paradigm’s research we’ve found that a hybrid, or blended, approach to learning that incorporates both self-paced learning (also known as “asynchronous learning”) and group-based learning, is the most impactful way to educate people around DEI topics.
This type of training program acknowledges that people learn differently; it’s flexible and lends itself to personalization. A blended approach delivers a range of touch points to build new knowledge and skills. But understanding the role each of these modalities plays, and using them correctly, is key to delivering an effective learning journey.
What is Asynchronous Learning?
Asynchronous learning can take many forms, including full online courses, microlearning videos, readings, or independent activities. The key differentiator is that it’s self-paced. Because it is self-paced, it gives people the flexibility to digest complex concepts on their own, allowing space for private reflection on concepts that cause discomfort.
Asynchronous learning is also a powerful tool for making DEI education programs more scalable and sustainable. It can be used as pre-work for group-based learning, giving learners the opportunity to establish a shared foundation and common level of understanding around complex topics in advance of in-person conversations.
Asynchronous learning can also be used to sustain learning — microlearnings, for example, can be delivered on an ongoing basis to remind people about inclusive behaviors or introduce new concepts and vocabulary.
Finally, asynchronous learning offers a practical way to do what so many DEI practitioners hope to do with their content: incorporate DEI education into existing upskill programs and practices by embedding it into key processes like onboarding or performance management.
The goal across all these options is to provide multiple ways for learning to “click,” keep DEI education top of mind, and strengthen an organization’s core DEI strategy.
What is Group-Based Learning?
While asynchronous learning is a great tool for introducing key concepts in a scalable way, group-based learning provides space for people to put their learning into action. By engaging in live dialogues with colleagues, people can apply skills and problem-solve in real time. They can practice scenarios that are tailored to their workplace, giving them the opportunity to try new things and fail safely.
This delivery method is most powerful when groups have established psychological safety — the feeling that it is safe to take risks together. Leaders can help foster psychological safety by sharing norms and expectations, modeling participation, and celebrating the process of practice.
Depending on the goals, it may make more sense to facilitate certain types of applied learning internally, while other types of dialogues should be led by experts. For example, when equipped with a discussion guide, employees could lead an effective conversation about how people plan to put strategies from an inclusive hiring course into action.
However, a conversation on racism and anti-racism at work will bring up challenging questions and emotions that subject matter experts are best-prepared to manage. These considerations will ensure that the discussion spaces remain psychologically safe and impactful for all learners.
Using Blended Learning to Meet Organizational Needs
DEI education is not a one-size-fits-all exercise, and different learning opportunities allow organizations to be flexible in how and when they provide DEI education. For large organizations, asynchronous learning is often more scalable, empowering them to move away from “one-and-done” DEI training toward ongoing learning journeys.
However, because group-based learning can be powerful tools for implementing individual learning, a hybrid approach is ideal: it accounts for different learning styles, maximizes knowledge retention, and ultimately drives the most impact.
Every organization should consider its own context, priorities, and constraints to design the most impactful program. Knowing this allows you to customize and build toward that position of strength.
How to Execute Blended Learning
As an initial example of incorporating blended learning, an organization that is committed to ongoing DEI education but cannot afford to have expert-led discussions for all employees on a regular basis might develop a strategy like the following:
- Begin with a self-paced course to introduce learners to DEI fundamentals
- Host small-group conversations (using a discussion guide to ensure consistency across groups and facilitators) to reflect on insights from the course and engage in action-planning
- Offer interactive, expert-led workshops that enable people to practice applying new behaviors in a structured environment
- Share short microlearnings on a new DEI topic each month to sustain and reinforce learning
- Provide resources, like checklists or reading lists, that are integrated into regular internal communications and serve as “nudges” to implement new behaviors at key moments in the employee lifecycle
Each element of this strategy provides learners with building blocks that, over time, support knowledge retention and behavior change. However, there’s no one set formula for how to create a perfect learning journey. Implement the strategies and practices that best fit your organization’s needs and learning styles!
The key is to craft a plan and offer options that work best for employees, organizational scale and structure, and goals for DEI education. Blended learning is a solid strategy and choosing the right tactics makes the most of this approach.
At Paradigm, we’ve seen blended learning have a ripple effect. When done correctly, it’s a strategy that enhances people’s ability to take action while building and sustaining momentum. It’s a multi-pronged approach that amplifies your great DEI content, protects against common failure points, and pays dividends.
To learn more about providing impactful DEI training to your workforce, download our whitepaper, The Keys to Effective Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Education to start educating and upskilling your employees today.
January 18, 2023