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17-18 April 2024 | ExCeL London

 

17 - 18 April 2024 | ExCeL London

Is your workplace training suitable for Neurodiverse learners?

Friday 22 March 2024

Is your workplace training suitable for Neurodiverse learners?

Helen Marshall
Is your workplace training suitable for Neurodiverse learners?

Here, we’ll be exploring how you can design your learning experiences to be suitable for Neurodiverse learners.

Neurodiverse people make up a large percentage of the UK workforce, with approximately 15% - 20% of the UK population considered to be Neurodiverse. That’s a lot of learners who are potentially missing out on important information if you don’t keep them in mind when designing your training. 

When we talk about Neurodiversity, so often the conversation goes straight to weaknesses or shortcomings.  We talk about how we can help, accommodate and bridge the gap. And while all of these things are important, this eventually contributes to the attitude that those who are Neurodiverse are lacking in some way when compared to those who are neurotypical. 

But let’s talk about the strengths for a minute. Research suggests that Neurodiverse people generally tend to be more creative and innovative, with an innate ability to hyper-focus and be themselves at work.

That being said, we want to make it clear that in no way are we denying that being Neurodiverse is difficult. The world in which we live presents constant challenges but that’s because it was built by and for neurotypical people. The difficulties come not from the conditions themselves, but for the lack of accommodations. 

 

With this in mind, what can we do to make our workplace learning more accommodating? Read on to find some key principles you can apply to your training. 

 

One size does not fit all 

The first thing to keep in mind is the sheer breadth of terms that the word ‘Neurodiverse’ covers. What works for one person might not work for another, so just make sure you are considering everyone when designing training.

‘Neurodiversity’ is an umbrella term of sorts that encompasses ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, OCD, and Autism to name just a few. Within these, there are specific requirements and needs - but these vary from person to person. 

 

Educate and understand the challenges

Educate yourself and your people. Research the complexities of Neurodiversity, not just the commonly accepted tropes and potential misinformation. 

Failing to move past stereotypes is harmful in more ways than one. Firstly it leads to ineffective learning because you aren’t adequately considering the genuine needs of your learners. The second and more harmful effect is that failing to understand Neurodiversity perpetuates the misinformation that’s already rampant. Stamp out these misunderstandings right at the beginning and your learners will thank you.  

Let’s take Autism as an example: a broad and complex developmental disability that can affect people in a huge variety of ways. It’s generally accepted that Autism is synonymous with communication difficulties. What this fails to acknowledge is the fact that it is not Autistic people who have communication difficulties necessarily, but rather, there is a disconnect between the ways different neurotypes communicate. The idea that Autistic people have difficulty is based on the thinking that neurotypical people are the accepted standard from which Autistic people deviate. 

This is just one piece of the puzzle, but it demonstrates that once you start researching these conditions in more depth, it will equip you with the important knowledge you need to create effective training. There can be a huge range of challenges associated with the conditions under the ‘Neurodiversity’ umbrella. 

Attention, auditory processing, concentration, executive dysfunction, memory and sensory sensitivity are just a few of the challenges associated with being Neurodiverse - so while everyone is different, make sure your learning accounts for these challenges. 

 

Accommodate

Now that you’re better equipped to understand the fundamentals of Neurodiverse learning, you can start to design inclusive experiences.

As a starting point, it’s important to consider the visual elements. GOV.UK has a useful list of different accessibility requirements for displaying information.

Secondly, it’s time to consider how Neurodiverse people learn when compared with those who are neurotypical. Here are a few things to consider. (The following principles are inspired by Mayer’s Principles of Learning, a great resource for everyone.)

 

Organising information

People of all neurotypes learn better if you lay the groundwork first. With this in mind, deliver some training on the basics ahead of time, laying out definitions, commonly used terms and concepts before you begin the bulk of the training.

Microlearning can be a great way to deliver this ‘pre-training’ quickly. While it’s not suitable for absolutely every piece of training, it’s been proven to be effective for lots of learning experiences and fits perfectly within pre-training. 

That brings us onto segmenting information. It’s been proven that we learn best when data is presented in segments as opposed to one long stream, and that’s true of both neurotypical and Neurodiverse learners. Avoid heavy, bulky explanations and your training will hit home. 

With signalling, make it clear what your learners are supposed to be paying the most attention to, by making it bold or highlighting it. 

 

Visuals 

If you’re presenting, try to minimise the number of words per slide. Too much text can be overwhelming so it’s best to deliver the bulk of the information verbally with accompanying images. The images should complement or clarify the information in some way. While we’re talking about text, make sure you’re using sans-serif font as this is easier reading for people with Dyslexia.

As per Mayer’s spatial contiguity principle, people learn best when relevant text and visuals are physically close together.

Avoid redundant text and audio. There’s no point having all the text written on the screen if it’s already being said in the audio. Research suggests that muted, neutral colours are best for Neurodiverse learners.

Of course if you are delivering training videos, give learners the option to turn captions on or off.

 

Offer flexibility

The most important principle to keep in mind when designing Neurodiversity-friendly learning experiences is one of flexibility. 

At every stage of the process it’s essential that you remain flexible and open, offering different options according to different people’s needs. Like we said at the beginning, this should never be a ‘one size fits all’ approach - because that’s never going to work for such a diverse group. 

Give people the option of the type of training they feel would most benefit them, whether that’s in person or elearning. While we’re obviously big champions of elearning, we’re also conscious of the fact that some people struggle with it and still need to be catered to. Others may experience sensory issues with in–person learning, so it’s all about finding what works best for each individual.

If your training takes place in person, take sensory issues into account. Around 70% of Autistic people have a sensory processing disorder, meaning that their senses can feel incredibly heightened. Sensitivity to light, sound and temperature can impede their ability to pay attention to - and retain - the important information you’re telling them. 

We hope our guide to Neurodiversity-friendly learning experiences has been useful. If you’re looking for an off-the-shelf solution that utilises microlearning and includes a huge wealth of resources on Neurodiversity, check out the Thrive Content service. 

 

Helen Marshall Helen Marshall

Chief Learning Officer at THRIVE 

Tags

  • diversity
  • equality
  • information
  • learners
  • learning
  • mind
  • neurodiverse
  • neurodiversity
  • neurotypical
  • training
  • workplace
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