6 tips for creating an effective—and meaningful—DEI training program

Creating a workplace where everyone feels like they belong requires more than standard corporate training. As diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) increases in organizational priority, companies are seeking ways to both educate their people and inspire them to build a more welcoming environment. That’s why LRN Library learning director Kristen Motzer and senior instructional designer Jane Grammer created LRN’s new DEI curriculum. The curriculum outlines a three-year plan of ongoing learning and communication initiatives to help organizations understand systemic DEI issues, share experiences, build empathy, and reflect on how they can drive change. Included in the curriculum are many learning design best practices that ensure the material is not only effective, but also meaningful.  

6 learning design best practices for effective, meaningful DEI training programs  

Motzer and Grammer shared some insights into designing a DEI curriculum and overall learning strategy that keeps people engaged, connected, and inspired to act. 

  1. Engage learners consistently. Research shows that one-off trainings are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Instead, microlearning—the practice of delivering quick, accessible learning to employees when and where they need it—better increases retention of and ability to apply training material. This approach is especially important for DEI topics, which focus on changing individual and company-wide behavior. “You can't give training once a year and expect behaviors to change,” says Grammer. “You need an ongoing, microlearning strategy.” That means reinforcing material over time to sustain lasting change and providing different learning experiences (such as videos, infographics, and quizzes) to keep folks engaged. “Your DEI curriculum isn’t just a learning plan,” says Grammer. “It’s a communication strategy as well. It needs to sustain conversation and engagement throughout the entire year.” 
  2. Balance individual and collaborative elements. DEI encompasses a wide range of sensitive topics, many of which will prompt discussion and self-reflection. So it’s beneficial to think about a DEI curriculum as more of a journey than an on-paper guide. “Look at your full range of curriculum assets and determine where you need to build in time for people to process and apply what they've learned,” says Motzer. “Assess where it makes sense to incorporate group conversations as well. Having a place to ask questions and share experiences makes such a difference with DEI topics. Learning individually isn’t enough to change behavior.”
    “Your DEI curriculum isn’t just a learning plan. It’s a communication strategy as well. It needs to sustain conversation and engagement throughout the entire year.” —Jane Grammer, Senior Instructional Designer  
  3. Involve leaders directly. Grammer notes that if organizations want to better integrate DEI into daily operations, they must have executives and managers who are champions for DEI. “Leaders need to model the behaviors and mindset that they want to see their employees adopt. People are not going to demonstrate an organization’s desired behaviors unless they see that at the top.” Getting leaders to prioritize any type of learning remains one of the biggest challenges for learning and development professionals worldwide. The solution? Make leaders a part of your curriculum. Whether it’s creating specific training or having them facilitate wider group discussions, leaders should not only be on the learning journey with their teams—but also guiding it. 
  4. Add a global lens. If your company is multinational, your DEI curriculum needs to reflect that. Motzer notes that taking a global approach goes beyond including more people of different nationalities in your imagery. “That’s certainly a step,” she says, “but that doesn’t make the content more relatable.” The key is ensuring the wider learning experience accounts for cultural differences, even when the information seems universal. “Discrimination and racism are unfortunately everywhere, and how it manifests can vary depending on where you are,” says Motzer. “We try to account for that when creating our DEI material by starting with the most basic message of seeing our commonalities with one another, then building from there.”

    “If we can get people to connect over [real] stories, we can help evolve people's empathy as a result.” —Kristen Motzer, LRN Library Learning Director
  5. Keep it real. Human stories build empathy. By incorporating real people and real-world scenarios into your DEI curriculum when possible, your content has a greater ability to resonate with learners. “Hearing actual people talk about these issues, stories that we didn't script, is so much more relatable to the human experience,” says Motzer. “If we can get people to connect over those stories, we can help evolve people's empathy as a result.” And just like all learning experiences, it’s important that your curriculum offer guidance on how to apply the information in real life. The more specific your call-to-action, says Motzer, the better. “You need to directly call on learners to do certain things, whether it’s having coffee with someone outside their usual circle or making sure that everyone’s voice is heard in a team meeting.”  
  6. Highlight the grey areas. Traditional ethics and compliance training often follows a “should and shouldn’t do” format. But topics related to DEI are far more nuanced than that. Focus your curriculum on helping people understand what systemic issues need to change, and encouraging them to question their own perceptions. “These topics are not always so black and white—there are many grey areas,” notes Grammer. “The more you can equip people with the skills to navigate those grey areas, the more they’ll contribute to building a respectful workplace culture.” For Motzer, the key is starting with empathy and understanding. “At LRN, we help people connect with shared values, like respect for all,” she explains. “Part of that means creating a space where it’s ok to not know something and ask questions. As long as someone demonstrates that they’re coming from a place of wanting to grow, people are likely going to give them room to grow.”  

The key takeaway 

For Grammer and Motzer, the end goal of an effective and meaningful DEI curriculum is empathy. “When I look at our entire DEI curriculum,” says Motzer, “my biggest goal is ensuring that we are being human-centered in our learning—that we foster respect for other people and help folks feel like they can bring their whole person to the workplace.”  

To learn more about how you can better educate your people on what DEI means, inspire folks to do the right thing, and influence a behavior change in your company culture, download a copy of the LRN DEI curriculum. You can also contact a member of our team to explore an in-depth version of the DEI curriculum tailored to your organization.