Just as workplaces have embraced smart technologies to facilitate team collaboration while migrating towards hybrid and remote arrangements, the way in which we learn and access education in the post-pandemic world is also evolving. Many colleges, universities, and educational organizations have been on the online learning bandwagon for a decade or more. However, no one could have predicted how the pandemic would change instructional methodologies at all levels, including continuing education for professional development and career advancement. Virtual education environments offer the advantage of a holistic balance of collaborative learning for all by establishing welcoming, respectful, and valued spaces, and the ability to apply diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies while maintaining education quality.
ASID’s 2023 Trends Outlook report acknowledges that educational instruction is no longer a top-down delivery method from instructor to learner, a concept which has in turn shifted interior design approaches used in school buildings, lecturing classroom and conference spaces. Educators now encourage more collaboration, team building, problem solving and creativity in learning. One might think this could potentially pose some challenges for online education to keep up with the times—not so. By using a thoughtful and intentional approach and giving consideration to a variety of voices to be heard while providing access for all, online education can provide a collaborative environment for the benefit of the interior design community at large.
When creating and evaluating educational quality and universal reach, it is critical to formalize aspects of DEI in the educational guidelines. Consider, for example, ASID’s Education Guidelines which show three main tenets in all curated educational content to ensure quality:
1. Use of Core Learning Principles.
2. Conceptualization of Experience & Skill Level for content application and assessment.
3. The purposeful intent in using Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion approaches representing all voices within the design community.
Quality Matters (a non-profit, quality assurance organization for online learning) also presents universal standards that have been established for online learning at all levels to ensure e-learning course design and content reflect a commitment to accessibility and usability for all learners.
The key words here are intent, accessibility, and quality for addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in educational content. At ASID, the intent is carried through all educational curation, from in-person conference session planning to on-demand asynchronous course production—walking the walk takes us one step further towards establishing common practice. At GATHER, the national conference by ASID, held in 2023 in Los Angeles, the curated speakers list represented persons of color, male, female, and nonbinary genders, unique cultural origins, and voices of varied experience level, from student to emerging professional to highly experienced design thought leader. A few of the presented sessions highlighted diversity issues, such as creating interest in the design profession by engaging inner-city middle schoolers to reach and inspire a more diverse workforce in the future. Another session focused on the need for intercultural competence as part of the goals of a project design, to create design solutions to serve a multi-cultural world. Dovetailing from that session was another that gave a wide array of examples of design as an expression of culture that translated into some very impactful spaces. Other session examples included home design for the aging population, trauma-informed design research studies for the homeless and K-12 school communities, and designing for those living with disabilities. In the coming months, ASID will consider many of these sessions for online courses which will feature accessibility accommodations, including closed captioning and compatibility with screen readers.
Whether online/virtual or in-person, DEI initiatives are not new concepts in the learning environment. But how we consider their application involves adopting a growth mindset. We can do this by asking a few simple questions during the creation and curation processes: Who am I creating this for? Am I making it accessible to as many potential learners as possible? Does the technology used for this product enable access for all? Have I considered how the content, including the graphics, perspectives, and language can foster a culture of inclusivity and equity within the online learning platform?
In today’s world, the interior design and education professions share much in common as we strive to create safe spaces that can reach, touch and benefit all. Leading that charge in education is the continually evolving and fascinating world of online learning.