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Creating Inclusive Learning Resources: Tips for Societies and Publishers

Societies and publishers are increasingly using their platforms to promote their field in novel ways, such as by hosting awards or creating useful infographics to disseminate shareable information. These organizations now also produce learning resources targeting many audiences, ranging from current professionals to kindergarteners, with the aim of promoting their field. While this is a good development, people producing educational materials and services have a responsibility to create digitally accessible materials to bring down barriers in learning and ensure equity in education. Digital accessibility in learning is about designing your training material such that it is easily accessible for all irrespective of their social, economic, or cultural backgrounds, and including those with health conditions or impairments.  Here, we introduce key considerations in ensuring accessibility and look at how different societies and publishers have effectively addressed these issues.

Why are societies and publishers creating educational content?

At first, it isn’t obvious why a society or academic publisher would create educational content, particularly for K-12 schools. After all, these organizations are not schools themselves. However, when we consider that societies and publishers have the respective goals of promoting the development of a research field and providing information to large audiences, it becomes clear that guiding the learning of future generations of academics is very much in their interest. Producing teaching materials not only benefits the public, but also the entities producing them. Producing materials such as worksheets or videos with your branding is great for increasing brand awareness and driving traffic.

Furthermore, ongoing professional education is vital, particularly in our age of rapid technological development. All too often, researchers lack the requisite skills to thrive outside of their usual academic environment. By meeting the needs of researchers through educational content, societies and publishers can also simultaneously strengthen their branding and diversify their revenue streams.

Key considerations in ensuring digital accessibility in learning

Cater for various Internet speeds

Ensure that those in developing countries have the same access as those in developed nations where the access to libraries, learning tools, and more are in abundant. For example, for researchers with low-speed or poor Internet connectivity, societies or publishers can offer opportunities to download livestreamed sessions/webinars (in low resolution).  

Adapting to different proficiency levels in English

Learners can differ in their proficiency in English, particularly those from underserved communities or countries where English is not widely spoken. Apart from making the language used in learning material simple and easy to follow, societies and publishers can also use various other tools to help ESL learners. For instance, providing subtitles and transcripts for videos makes it easy for learners to access the content without being fazed by accents or cadence of the speaker.

Accommodate disabilities

  1. Learners with disabilities often struggle to meet academic targets if they are not given accommodations; accordingly, most institutions have dedicated special needs departments. Various disabilities can affect educational achievement in different ways. Here are some common categories of disabilities and how materials can be adjusted to meet the users’ needs.
  2. Visual impairments, including partial or total blindness: Include large print versions of materials. Ensure that your website and documents are optimized for screen readers, including alt text for all images.
  3. Auditory impairments, including deafness: Subtitle videos or other interactive content. Use easy, accessible English text for the d/Deaf community.
  4. Language processing disorders: Provide the same text in a variety of formats (e.g., PDF printable, audio clip). This includes text related to instructions for any activities, quizzes, etc.

Finally, while it is wise to include depictions of people with disabilities in your materials, you should avoid common stereotypes.

Understand neurodiversity

Neurodiversity is also gaining attention in both education and professional settings. Accordingly, educational and professional development materials may need to be adapted. Here, we outline two important considerations in neurodiversity: dyslexia and ASD.

People with dyslexia experience challenges in reading. While special fonts to improve reading comprehension have been produced, evidence for their efficacy is poor. The British Dyslexia Association has produced an easy-to-follow style guide for producing materials suitable for people with dyslexia.

People with ASD often have sensory issues, particularly sensory overload when exposed to intense stimuli. Contrasting colors and busy backgrounds may look “fun”, but they can be distracting or even distressing to people with ASD.

Promote gender, cultural, and ethnic inclusivity

In some parts of the world, girls have little access to education, resulting in lifelong deficiencies. Additionally, there is a common perception that girls and women are less suited towards scientific pursuits and careers, which reinforces inequality between men and women in these fields. It is best to include both men and women in your materials and avoid depictions that rigidly stick to traditional gender norms.

We also recommend mentioning female pioneers within your field. For example, when teaching about computer science, Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper deserve mention alongside figures like Alan Turing or Dennis Ritchie.

Traditionally, when publishers made teaching materials, they primarily or exclusively included people of the dominant ethnicity of their country. For example, it used to be common for all people in British teaching materials to be white and British, despite the growing Afro-Caribbean and South Asian communities. Ensuring that a range of ethnicities are included is vital to overall inclusion.

Examples of inclusive learning materials done right

Adventures in Chemistry by the American Chemical Society is a great resource that demonstrates excellent inclusivity. As well as including depictions of a diverse range of people, the materials therein are easily adaptable to various levels of educational attainment, making them very suitable to people with learning difficulties.

The Royal Society of Chemistry has a great range of resources for the classroom, and has specifically addressed inclusivity in scientific education curricula, including materials on women in science.

National Geographic provides a wide range of materials that promote a global perspective both for scientific and social issues that are covered.

Nature Masterclasses is an extensive platform offering professional development courses and materials for researchers across many fields. Of note, they have partnered with historically black colleges and universities in the United States to offer modules on improving equity for African diaspora researchers.

Do you have any other examples of inclusive teaching materials we have missed? Feel free to drop them in the comments below!

David Burbridge

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