Jump to content

Diversity in E‑Learning

Digital learning for all

Diversity in eLearning

It would be wrong to claim that diversity in corporate learning is becoming increasingly important - it always has been, it's just that the topic is finally getting the attention it deserved from the very beginning. After all, where could equal opportunities and the consideration of different social and cultural backgrounds and life realities be more important than in the field of education? Even if the ethical aspect should always be the main motivation, diversity in eLearning also brings economic benefits to companies... In this article, you can read what "diversity in eLearning" encompasses, what the benefits are of paying more attention to the diversity of your workforce, even in the field of digital education, and how you can easily ensure more diversity.


What is diversity in eLearning?

When we talk about diversity, we mean much more than the various forms that the controversial social construct of gender can take. So it's not just about equality between men, women, and diverse people, but about making visible and taking into account all the diversity dimensions that digital learning can affect in individual ways: Age, origin, parenthood, religion, level of education, ... Instead of recognizing individuality as a disruptive factor, attention to diversity aspects in eLearning pursues the goal of creating equal access to digital education and addressing and supporting all learners equally. Consequently, paying attention to diversity requires being aware of the different socially conditioned starting situations of individuals.

Nadine Pedro
[Translate to English:] Nadine Pedro, chemmedia AG

Interesting information free of charge?

Take advantage of our expertise.

We regularly share our knowledge and experience free of charge.
Just subscribe to the newsletter to ensure you don’t miss a thing.

Bitte füllen Sie das Pflichtfeld aus.
Bitte füllen Sie das Pflichtfeld aus.
Bitte füllen Sie das Pflichtfeld aus.
* Mandatory field

By confirming, you agree that chemmedia AG may send you whitepapers, news and know-how in the field of e-learning. Of course, we will treat your data confidentially and will not pass it on to third parties. You can unsubscribe from the newsletter at any time and object to the processing of your data in accordance with our privacy policy.

Diversity aspects that may be relevant to eLearning

Sociographic and individual aspects

Age, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, native language, disability, individual learning type, time management, living arrangements, communication preferences, sexual orientation, caregiving responsibilities, prior professional knowledge, mobility, income, ...

Technical aspects and media literacy

Ownership of technical equipment (or shared use), quality of technical equipment, internet connection, media literacy, prior experience with eLearning, online communication skills, ...


How diversity can be incorporated into eLearning

As mentioned at the beginning, paying attention to diversity requires being aware of the different socially determined starting points of individuals and being sensitive to the different needs in terms of learning. Individual interviews and surveys of your employees can provide insight. Understanding how discrimination works also helps you take the right action. For example, there are many forms of discrimination that have a completely subtle effect without having to be based on overt aggression. 

The goal is to make the learning environment as flexible as possible and to allow for multiple ways of acquiring knowledge that take into account those very individual circumstances.

To name just a few concrete examples: 

  • Parents of young children may find it difficult to take complex online courses at home because they are likely to keep getting distracted. 
  • BIPOC will find it harder to identify with content if only white people are ever shown in pictures.  
  • Older people may feel discriminated against if age is only ever mentioned in negative contexts. 
  • And if eLearning content is only ever presented in text and images, auditory learners will only be much less motivated and able to learn successfully. 

The examples make it clear that there are a wide variety of aspects to consider and that attention to diversity is inextricably linked to learning success. In fact, one can even say that the more individualized the learning experience, the greater the identification of learners with the content, the higher the motivation to learn and also the learning outcome.


Pretests are the easiest way to take individual prior knowledge into account and bring all learners up to the same educational level in a time-saving manner. If the questions are already answered correctly in the pretest, before the actual online course, the associated learning objectives are marked as passed and no longer need to be worked on. In this way, the repetition of existing knowledge is avoided, so that boredom and the associated demotivation do not arise. This approach increases the learners' enjoyment of acquiring knowledge, conserves their cognitive resources and shortens the learning time. Conversely, in the case of knowledge gaps, learners automatically take the necessary basic courses first and are not demotivated by comprehension problems and later negative exam results.

Learning paths specify the order in which courses should be taken and can be combined with pretests as desired. This ensures that knowledge that builds on each other is really learned from the basics. At the same time, consciously deciding against learning paths gives learners additional freedom. If the order of the courses does not matter, learners can choose according to their individual needs, which the authors may not even be able to anticipate. Because as mentioned above, the higher the individuality, the better the learning outcome. Accordingly, instructional paths are a suitable aspect to enable even more self-determination.

Using a variety of media and learning methods can address the different needs of different types of learners. A start is to use balanced audio, text, images and video. Optimally, however, learners have a choice of media even at key elements, such as those that explain context or provide instruction, so that all learners are guaranteed to absorb knowledge in the form that is most efficient for them.

Responsiveness ensures that content can also be displayed on any device and that individual users* are not excluded by their choice of device.

Almost 10% of the German population is considered severely disabled. About 35,000 are visually impaired, about 80,000 people are deaf and about 16 million are hard of hearing. Digital accessibility ensures that all people, including those with limited vision, hearing, motor skills, cognitive and temporary disabilities, can take advantage of learning opportunities. Although the measures for implementing digital accessibility are easy to implement in most cases, they are complex in their entirety. Therefore, you will find a separate article on this topic.

Crucial in paying attention to diversity in eLearning is language, as the distance between authors/tutors and learners means that the real representation of diversity is lost. At the same time, language is the most effective way to include (as much as possible) all realities. A 100% representation of all diversities is probably not possible even with language, but the following principles help to approximate:

  • Represent people in their preferred terms
  • Person with assistance needs, Muslim/Muslim, Austrian of African origin, Roma and Sinti, ... When in doubt, ask your employees which term they prefer.
  • Gender-neutral wording and gender-appropriate language
  • Make sure to always address all genders when addressing people personally (Dear participant). When naming unspecified groups of people, on the other hand, a gender-neutral form should be used if possible (employees instead of co-workers), in order to really include all learners and thus enable the greatest possible identification.
  • If individual examples are cited and action figures* are used, creativity is called for - because nothing is better suited to making as many realities as possible visible!  
    • Actors should be balanced male and female
    • Actors should also be regularly assigned to non-typical role models (father picks up child from daycare, father works part-time, mother works full-time, doctor treats patients, ...)
    • Do not use clichéd descriptions such as "the man with the broad shoulders", "the petite woman", ... especially in direct juxtaposition
    • conscious representation of different cultures and ages (family outing on the Sabbath instead of Sunday, ...)
  • Attention also that aging is not only treated as a social problem, work is not only described as gainful employment and disability is not only defined from the external perspective as suffering.

Much like language, images and video are ideal for depicting a wide variety of diversities. Men, women, Muslims, Jews, BIPOC, transgender people, different sexual orientations whenever couples are shown, men and women in non stereotypical roles... You will find enough choice in the relevant image databases.


Economic Benefits of Diversity in E‑Learning

It should be clear by now that taking diversity into account in a company not only pursues ethical, emancipatory and socio-political goals, but will also ultimately have a positive impact on economic aspects. 

Diversity improves learning outcomes

The higher the individuality in eLearning, the higher the identification of learners with the material, the relevance and finally the motivation. And we know: Those who are motivated to learn will ultimately also achieve the better learning results and, in the process, will usually also need significantly less time to learn. Conversely, the feeling of being excluded or even discriminated against can lead to the exact opposite.

Diversity strengthens employee retention

Logically, the more employees feel seen and valued in their diversity, the more likely they are to stay - unlike when they feel repeatedly ignored or even discriminated against in their given attributes.

Diversity enriches image

At the same time, diversity - no matter in which area - always contributes positively to the company's image. The advantages are drawn both in recruiting and vis-à-vis employees, the press and clientele. This is true even if you currently employ a workforce that is only slightly diverse, as paying attention to diversity is a sign of how a company is positioning itself sociopolitically and is willing to fly the flag.


Legal basis

Although there is no clear set of rules on diversity in eLearning, there is, however, with the General Equal Treatment Act, AGG for short, a legal basis for all measures to be taken against discrimination in the field of education as well.

§ 1 AGG: The aim of the law is to prevent or eliminate discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual identity.


The second paragraph specifies that the law specifically addresses (3) "access to all forms and all levels of vocational guidance, vocational training, including vocational training, continuing vocational training and retraining, and practical work experience" and (7) "education."


The bottom line.

The attitude toward diversity and inclusion is also and especially evident in corporate learning, where it is decided whether companies really provide equal opportunities and grant all employees the same opportunities to develop and advance. The implementation is very simple: language and media alone offer countless opportunities to take diversity into account. Professional eLearning softwares further support with tools for adaptation and individualization.

Magda Lehnert | Blogger
Magda Lehnert

The following articles may also interest you


Caption image: Jacob Lund/shutterstock.com