Training design with neurodiversity in mind

This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week — a chance to celebrate great minds that think differently and to shine the spotlight on how, with greater awareness comes a shift in the way we design learning experiences.

Four people standing and sitting around a table looking at flash cards discussing neurodiversity

Instructional design is always evolving. It often reflects wider societal changes, with the rise in demand for online training over the last few years being an obvious example. As an agency who has designed, developed and delivered training programs for some of the world’s biggest and most diverse companies, we’re excited to see how the increased awareness of neurodiversity in society has had a ripple effect in the training landscape. But keeping up with the times isn’t the only reason to make your training neuroinclusive. Previous ideas about how many people are neurodiverse are now thought to be huge underestimations — it’s now thought about 20% of the population could be neurodiverse, and perhaps even more. So designing training programs that are neuroinclusive means that you’re supporting the learning of a huge part of the population, increasing the effectiveness and reach of your training. 

Here’s how society is shifting, why it’s important to design neuroinclusive training and a few practical tips on how to do it.

Societal shifts are driving the need for neuroinclusivity in training

With decreased stigma and more medical professionals being authorised to diagnose neurodiversity, as well as ever-wider assessment boundaries, more adults are getting diagnosed than ever before. A study reports that in the US, the diagnosis of ADHD in adults is now four times that of children, with its prevalence more than doubling between 2007 and 2016. Other studies suggest even higher diagnosis rates. 

Schools are already paving the way in how to be more neuroinclusive. Things like visual schedules, executive functioning tools, sensory rooms, preferential seating for neurodiverse children, and increased social support are being implemented. There are more courses for educators available to help them create classrooms where neurodivergent students can thrive. Soon these school students will enter the workforce — and we need to be ready to receive and support them when they do.

So what does this all mean for training? It means that it’s critical to consider how neuroinclusive your training content is. To remain valuable and effective, instructional design needs to put neuroinclusivity at the forefront.

Strategies for neuroinclusive instructional design

Designing training to better suit neurodivergent learners can radically transform the outcomes of your course. Here are some principles to consider when making your training neuroinclusive:

  1. Create flexible learning pathways

    Offer a mix of mediums, including podcasts, videos, face-to-face training, group and solo time, plus plenty of opportunities to practise new skills. This gives neurodivergent individuals the autonomy to choose to learn in the way that works best for them.

  2. Keep instructions clear

    Make instructions explicit, concise and use straightforward language. This benefits all your learners, especially those with neurodivergent traits such as attention to detail and literal thinking. Properly orienting your learners to the task at hand, and providing a sufficient framework so they understand what they have to do will boost their confidence, help them engage in the task, and help them finish with less stress and more efficiency.

  3. Keep things iterative

    Make sure you’re constantly getting feedback from your learners, so you can learn from them and improve the program experience. There is no ‘one size fits all’ model that you can copy for your program, so actively involving neurodiverse voices in the refinement process will create an environment that is responsive to the evolving needs of all learners.

  4. Focus on your learning environment

    People need to feel psychologically safe in order to learn well. Your training program should be a safe space where people are free to ask for clarification and support without feeling disruptive or unreasonable. Learners should be able to work together, have open communication, and support one another.

"Neurodiversity is the future of innovation and progress."

Steve Silberman, Neurotribes, 2015

Why creating a neuroinclusive learning program is crucial for your company’s success

Implementing these strategies and making your training more neuroinclusive will have ripple effects across your organisation. As the Curb-Cut Effect demonstrates, when we accommodate and support disadvantaged or marginalised members of society, everyone benefits. Making space for the voices of neurodiverse individuals at work will help foster a culture of inclusion where everyone feels seen, heard and appreciated for their unique talents. This in turn enhances employee morale, increases retention rates and contributes to a more creative and dynamic corporate ecosystem. The stronger the sense of belonging at your company, the more employees will feel engaged at work.

By creating neuroinclusive training, L&D professionals can unlock the hidden potential within their company. Research suggests that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them. Neurodivergent individuals often bring creative perspectives and approaches to problem solving, so by incorporating neuroinclusive design principles, they can integrate these strengths, and create a culture of innovation. This all contributes to a high-performing, effective and well-rounded workforce. By embracing cognitive differences, teams can meet challenges with a broader range of solutions.

As we celebrate Neurodiversity Celebration Week, it’s crucial to recognise the need for neuroinclusive training programs. By integrating neuroinclusive design principles, organisations create an inclusive culture that enhances productivity and unleashes the full potential of their teams.

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