In the past year, we’ve been highlighting different areas behind the scenes of our forthcoming Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education (RDEISE) project. In our Accessibility at LabXchange series, we heard from our head UX/UI designer, one of our editors, a developer from our tech team, our graphic design team, and some of our writers. We also introduced our content development fellows and research and content development consultants.
This month, we’re bringing the focus back to our learning design team. Megan Tennant, Charne Simpson, and Candice Gerber share their perspectives on what goes into designing learning content for RDEISE, the critical role of equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) in the project, their tips for anyone aspiring to a career in learning design, and more.
Charne: Learning Design is creating online learning journeys. You have to take into account how people learn online, which will inform how you structure the content.
Candice: To me, learning design is about finding the most accessible and most interesting way to represent knowledge. It’s like the bridge between the content and the learner. It’s really important that that bridge can be used by any learner who comes across it, and is also interesting and challenging enough to cause the learner to want to make the journey across. This means not only being really intentional about what content is included, but also paying attention to how the content is presented in eye-catching, interactive, and challenging ways.
Megan: There are many parts to the process, such as engaging with subject matter experts to better understand the content, and perspective taking on the part of our learners. But ultimately, what I find the most meaningful about learning design is that it revolves around grappling with learning something new, and the challenge of translating this learning into meaningful learning materials for our intended audience.
Charne: I’m a writer and learning designer on the RDEISE project. I studied film and television at university. I started my career in online media for a television station, then I moved on to film academia where I developed a love for education. Learning Design is a great middle ground between academia and online media for me. I call it “academia adjacent.” It’s a sweet spot.
Candice: My role in the RDEISE project is to take the content given to us by the incredibly knowledgeable subject matter experts in the areas of STEM education and use it to create a cohesive learning experience. This involves dividing and organizing the content into pathways and individual assets, and selecting the most appropriate method of conveying the different sections of content. Having previously worked as a teacher in the areas of science and language, this is the kind of process I enjoy the most.
Megan: There are many stakeholders who bring their different skills and expertise to the RDEISE project. As a senior learning designer, a large part of my role is to ensure that all of this rich input is contributing to a coherent and consistent final product with a meaningful learning journey.
Charne: It’s at the center of every piece of content we work on, from start to finish.
Megan: The content in the RDEISE project directly focuses on the importance of EDIB in learning environments. So the RDEISE team is in a fortunate position to learn from these principles on a daily basis. Practically applying these principles is both rewarding and challenging! For example, the learning design process on RDEISE is incredibly iterative—the content goes through various rounds of feedback from different team members and external reviewers. Feedback can be hard, especially if it points out areas where we’ve misinterpreted an important concept or used language that could be exclusionary. The culture of giving and receiving feedback in our team is in the spirit of EDIB, which comes with honesty, openness, and respect.
Charne: Using inclusive language, thinking of all users and their needs from the start of development, and maintaining a sense of creativity. Accessible content doesn’t have to be boring, or thought of as a burden.
Candice: The language we use is a key consideration. Anyone who has been a teacher will tell you how important it is to be very intentional about the language you use, as the slightest slip up can result in a learner developing a misunderstanding about a concept that is entirely new to them. Another key consideration is that we represent our content in a variety of ways, building in a multitude of semiotic modes so that our content speaks to all learners’ specific learning needs.
Megan: One of the main aims of the RDEISE project is for all learners—especially those from racially marginalized backgrounds—to recognize themselves as scientists and to be intrigued by science as a discipline. Our team aims to keep this front of mind when developing the content, from using examples that are relevant to our audience, to portraying characters that counteract stereotypes.
Charne: Working on content that seeks to address racial injustice has been so rewarding, challenging, and quite a personal experience. As a person of color, antiracism is very important to me.
Candice: For me, antiracism has always been a process of learning paired with conscious and deliberate action. As part of my role, I get the opportunity both to learn from some incredible minds in the field of antiracism and STEM, and to provide those kinds of learning opportunities to others as well. It can be disheartening to really recognize the ways that racism and white supremacy have permeated every facet of our society, but this project also gives me a great amount of hope for the future and the kinds of deliberate interventions that are already beginning to take place.
Megan: The continual learning process. I joined the RDEISE project in support of its aims, but I didn’t realize how little I understood about the history of race and its invention in humans. I’m inspired by how this project relies on the rigor of science to debunk harmful myths about race, and how it’s correcting the history and the continuing misconceptions that have led to the racial inequities still present today.
Candice: Learning design is the kind of field that requires you to be really passionate about ongoing education—and that includes your own. This is not the kind of job where you can hone just one skill and apply that in different forms throughout your career. You need to be the type of person who is excited to learn new things, and likes to go out and expand their knowledge in order to more accurately and effectively present content to others. Whether this means playing around with a new AI tool to help you come up with ideas for graphics, or coming up with a new idea for how we can display content, learning design requires constant innovation and flexibility.
Megan: Learning designers inhabit many middle grounds, whether it’s interfacing with different teams or navigating differing viewpoints of the experts they work with. My advice to those interested in the field is to be willing to wade into ambiguity—both in terms of the content and the stakeholders they’d work with on a daily basis.
Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.