The link between diversity, inclusion, and psychological safety
When there is a lot of diversity, there is a need for inclusion. The need for inclusion is derived from a situation where members of a community are not the same. For instance, they do not share the same beliefs, culture, habits, religion, or, looks.
In this kind of situation, community members need to find a way to respect each other’s differences. Likewise, they need to learn to behave in ways that exemplify this, . To make a community inclusive the diverse individuals need to feel psychologically safe, . That is a community where everyone is treated equally and where everyone is having an equal level of belonging to the community.
The concept of psychological safety has various definitions. According to a definition by Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business University professor, psychological safety means that community members are not afraid to make mistakes. They feel safe to reveal incompleteness in their skill set to others, . Psychological safety can be fostered for example, through open communication, showing trust, empathy, and friendliness, providing clarity and presence, , .
Inklusiiv, a Finnish non-profit organization, and cross-border community offering services to promote diversity and inclusion defines the concept of psychological safety as follows:
”A belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. When adopted in the workplace, team members feel respected and safe to be vulnerable in front of each other. Creating an environment in which people feel comfortable to take risks is key to fostering learning and innovation in the workplace.”, .
An online course platform that fosters diversity, inclusion, and psychological safety
How can an online course or an online course platform foster psychological safety? Here are our four main suggestions:
- Build trust and respect towards each other, consider learners as autonomous knowledge creators
- Foster an atmosphere where asking questions and information sharing is the desired activity
- Provide constant support, feedback and as clear instructions as possible
- Provide different materials for different needs
- Make the learning atmosphere as humane and approachable as possible
The first rule in psychological safety is to build trust and respect towards each other, as stated above, , . In order to create trust, individuals need to feel that they are respected and trusted by the teachers as learners and, as individual actors. This trust can be shown by e.g. allowing learners to influence and organize their own learning, for instance.
Learners’ ability to influence their learning adequately increases the possibility to reach a so-called flow-state which for its part engages deep learning process, . Additionally, learners should be allowed and encouraged to act autonomously and construct knowledge together with others. In other words, to make learning a less hierarchical and a more collaborative process. Therefore, the students should be active and self-driven, collecting and constructing knowledge autonomously, together with their fellow learners and the teacher, .
How can you support open communication and autonomy in an online platform
In Claned’s online learning platform, learner autonomy is encouraged through the possibility to jump from one module, or set of content, to another. That is to say, learners can start from the end of the course if they wish to do so. In this way, learning remains more collaborative, and not an educator-driven process, which also enables and supports asynchronous learning.
Additionally, learners are able to actively participate in the knowledge construction process. For instance by adding their own thoughts, reflections, questions, and course material on the course board.
Claned’s board chat function on the course platform enables learners to have an open discussion.
Learners’ ability to rate materials, add comments, questions, and highlight text directly in specific parts of the course materials fosters open communication. This enables learners to create an atmosphere where asking questions and sharing insights is a desired and productive activity. Teachers can support the creation of this atmosphere by adding supportive replies to learners’ comments and questions. Teachers can identify interest or trouble areas and ask leading questions, or link additional information on the platform.
Additionally, the possibility to embed videos from different sources and inbuild chat functions helps to create a feeling of presence. Claned social media like platform creates a user-friendly and familiar experience.
Learners can find and see other learners’ public profiles. Likewise, starting private or group chats is an easy way to get to know each other better. These functions on Claned’s learning platform all in all help to create a friendly and humane atmosphere which in itself fosters psychological safety and inclusion.
Intuitive and easy to use learning platform
Claned’s intuitive and lean learning platform enables teachers to provide learners clear instructions for the course and the course materials. All the modules and course materials are visible at the same time on the course board. This helps learners to get a better overall picture of the course. For instance information about upcoming contents, tests, and desired goals and course progress. To reduce feelings of uncertainty learners are provided information on the course. For example, course structure, what is expected of them, and how long the course will take. This way, learners have easy access to all information, and thanks to the platform’s intuitiveness, it is really easy to use.
Above all, it is crucial to provide materials that suit the different needs the learners might have. Learners can have different backgrounds and varying prior skills. Therefore, different learning approaches and materials are inevitable. Learners have a variety of levels of knowledge, technical skills, and, access to devices. In conclusion, a lot of diversity.
At Claned’s learning platform, there is a possibility to create tests. Tests can help to define the learner’s prior skills, interests, and needs. Therefore it is possible to create different content packages to match each learner’s needs. This customized approach to learning helps to ensure that learners get the materials and support best suited to helping them develop and reach their goals.
Startup Refugees creating a psychologically safe learning atmosphere
A good example of creating psychological safety in online learning is the collaboration done between Claned and Startup Refugees. Claned has provided its learning platform pro bono for Startup Refugees. They are an NGO that arranges courses in entrepreneurship and work-related skills for immigrants and refugees.
As Kati Lappeteläinen from Startup Refugees pointed out, “We knew that many of our learners were not very familiar with digital course environments. Therefore, we had prepared our leaflet with screenshots to provide our learners with the best guidance for online learning. We wanted to ensure that everyone has as clear instructions as possible on how to proceed on the course. We even provided personal guidance whenever needed.”
When the high variation in learners’ technological competencies is taken into account and ensured that everyone has all information and help needed to start learning. Then we can actually enable inclusion and psychological safety.
Writer’s note: This blog post has been inspired by the NGO and cross-border community Inklusiiv, their articles, and sources regarding diversity and inclusion.
. Q. Roberson, Disentangling the Meanings of Diversity and Inclusion. Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, 2004. Cornell University ILR School.
. A. Edmondson, Psychological Safety, and Learning Behaviour in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 2, 1999, pp. 350-383.
 Best practices to foster inclusion in remote work. Inklusiiv ry, 2020. Available at: https://fi.inklusiiv.org/post/7-best-practices-to-foster-inclusion-in-remote-work.
 High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It. Harvard Business Review, 2017. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/08/high-performing-teams-need-psychological-safety-heres-how-to-create-it.
 Inklusiiv, 2020.
 M. Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996
 J. B. Biggs and C. S. Tang, Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2011.
This article was a part of Slush’s whitepaper “Entrepreneurship Redefined” -series, where Slush partner companies around the world revealed how their work is shaping the entrepreneurial tomorrow.