Business and HR leaders globally acknowledge the importance and benefits of making their programs and workplaces more diverse and ensuring everyone has equal chances. That realization is more evident in L&D circles, as many use career development and upskilling to enfranchise otherwise marginalized groups. However, the level of understanding of the importance of diversity and having solid learning programs are still not satisfying. According to the latest Statista survey, 27 percent of U.S. businesses still have little diversity in their culture of learning, while three percent have none at all.
Yet, variety is among the crucial factors of employee happiness and business success. For instance, 94 percent of workers would stay longer with their organizations had they invested in their learning, and 91 percent want personalized training. That also means it's not enough to have an L&D in place. Instead, companies and L&D professionals must listen to the heterogeneous employee group and consider all kinds of diversity.
Neurodiverse employees strive for greater workplace representation, but their voices are often not heard and acknowledged. However, your L&D programs can only be complete and effective if they address different diversity types.
Neurodiversity is a relatively novel term in the work landscape, despite originating in the 90s. It perceives neurological differences as normal brain development variations, not defects. Hence, those who identify as neurodiverse don't experience it as a medical issue, but only as individuals who navigate the world through different lenses, each of which has its unique strengths, weaknesses, and potential. But these people are still a part of the neurodiverse community and need the help of people who will stand up for neurodiversity and make sure it is seen.
Learning and Development programs created for neurodivergent learners aim to develop training and workshops that capitalize on the advantages of neurodiversity and help overcome challenges. When implementing these initiatives, L&D professionals contribute to establishing a more equitable world in which every employee can build desired and needed professional skill sets. But even though designers have the most genuine intentions, their efforts tend to fall short. That happens for multiple reasons — inaccessible interface design, disengaging content, and irrelevant programs.
However, there is another common reason preventing neurodiverse learning from succeeding. Companies are often not familiar with the unique struggles neurodivergent employees encounter, and many don't even know enough about neurodiversity. As a result, they either introduce non-effective training or sideline the needs of neurodiverse employees as a whole. In the aftermath of these feeble initiatives, workers find themselves excluded from L&D opportunities, unable to unlock their full potential and enjoy their workplace to the fullest.
That often happens because L&D professionals might not listen actively to their workforce. Instead, they talk and promise top-notch training but focus only on the bigger picture, missing out on all the elements making that picture. Neurodivergent employees are a part of diverse groups and deserve equal attention and access to learning and career growth. Otherwise, these initiatives will continue to be fragmentary and unable to address the needs of the whole workforce.
Moreover, L&D professionals risk overall dissatisfaction among employees if not everyone gets equitable access to learning and training that targets their unique capabilities. That is different from saying they must create programs for each group of workers, but they must ensure that the program works for everyone and addresses different learning styles and challenges.
Many employee experiences and L&D programs fizzle out or fail to meet their purpose. Because of that, Learning designers must develop initiatives through neurodiversity lenses and offer opportunities and training that inspire and delight everyone. No other way is better to drive stellar outcomes for employees within the neurodivergent community. But every L&D professional knows that may sound easy, but it's far from it.
So, how do Learning designers switch from solely targeting engagement and establishing enfranchisement? The best advice is to turn to experts and ask for their insights. If you want your company to introduce efficient learning initiatives and provide equitable opportunities for neurodivergent employees, you need the help of L&D leaders and program designers. They have made significant strides toward targeting and engaging the target audience in developing relevant services, products, and solutions.
Moreover, these creators put additional effort into including neurodivergent perspectives in the learning design process. But what do they do differently from most training developers? Learning designers start by interviewing neurodivergent stakeholders to acquire the needed perspective for their initial steps. They evaluate and decide their design choices after running product and service testing with neurodivergent participants. Launching the program only comes after receiving good feedback. However, Learning designers don't stop at one series of tests. Instead, they maintain regular communication with neurodiverse groups to enhance product placement continuously and reinforce user connection.
These creators continue to encourage constructive feedback and suggestions after launching the program. Hence, they often leverage customer satisfaction surveys to take neurodivergent user experiences to a greater level and improve equity and inclusion. Still, you must establish a lasting design paradigm shift to ensure your neurodiverse employees are never excluded from your learning programs. Here's how to achieve that.
Although it's still among the crucial factors to engage neurodivergent learners, L&D leaders and developers should go beyond that pillar. Instead, they should focus on the fact that DEIB representatives having a seat at the table isn't sufficient. Today, most neurodiverse stakeholders are more passive observers in the process and have little to no say in product development. Genuine belonging and equity start with making L&D leaders and designers active voices in the process and bringing neurodivergence to the surface.
Because of that, companies must nurture advocacy as enfranchisement. When designing products and programs for a specific audience, they must learn about their authentic, lived, and unique experiences and intentionally weave them into the design. Many companies create L&D initiatives for neurodivergent learners without direct input and involvement of their perspectives. Hence, if you're designing a neurodiverse training, ask yourself how many neurodivergent employees you have talked to and compiled their insights. You might be the most skilled creator and a visionary, but you can't develop an effective neurodiverse learning solution if you haven't walked in their shoes. That's where the paramount importance of enfranchisement in design lies.
Recognize your individual limits and that you require authentic input and external perspective. Despite your good intentions, you can only create a satisfying program if you talk with your target audience and learn about their personal experiences and struggles. However, like many things, that is easier said than done. Neurodivergent employees are often silent about their status and dislike speaking about it. They fear being ridiculed or accused of taking advantage of the company. Since you must respect your employees' privacy and sentiments, the best way is to collaborate with learning consultants specializing in designing programs for neurodivergent audiences. They bring authentic expertise, perspective, and empathy to the table, ensuring they can address neurodiverse learners' needs without infringing on their privacy and anonymity.
If you decide to design the neurodiverse learning solution yourself, start with thorough research. Thankfully, literature on neurodiverse perspectives and experiences is increasingly available today, allowing you to lay out the foundations of an inclusive design. The next step is to analyze it and go through your elementary design processes and philosophies. Understand whether what you have established can create an engaging solution that resonates with your neurodiverse audience. Keep in mind that they learn differently, not deficiently. As a result, you might have to retool your learning design process to optimize it. Be wary; that might mean you'll need a complete overhaul of your approach. However, this task isn't necessarily daunting.
Consider enhancing accessibility and splitting larger L&D initiatives into smaller, more manageable blocks. Also, establish a clear and easily understandable course to empower your neurodivergent learners to use the platform and navigate it swiftly. Site mapping should be intuitive, and all modules and pages should flow well together. Remember to treat your neurodivergent learners as adults instead of gating the learning experience. Prioritize friendly design, minimize flashy elements, and offer downloadable transcripts instead of solely providing captions. But neurodiverse learners aren't a monument, and you might need to introduce specific tweaks and solutions that target their needs and challenges.
Developing meaningful and effective learning opportunities for neurodivergent learners benefits the whole team. These initiatives also do more than create engaging and accessible products. When you expand inclusion in L&D initiatives, that has a domino effect on your company. A product targeted at a specific audience will always attract more people than you initially thought. That helps build more tight-knit connections in the workplace and makes it easier for coworkers to resonate with each other. Finally, it shows people that the company cares about their future and invests in their potential. They will be more eager to explore other opportunities within the workplace and discover how else they can grow. That's a great ripple effect that will help your employees and company for a long time.
Originally published at www.linkedin.com.
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