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DEI & eLearning: An Imbalance to Address

I'll jump right into it and say that many people are struggling with the goal of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and what that looks like in practice. I'll be more direct; we are overlooking the I-inclusion part of it all. As an eLearning designer (and a black female), I'm receiving more requests from leaders and clients to remove or drastically reduce images or graphics of white people, primarily white men, and I think this is a mistake. These requests are well-intentioned, but they are misguided nonetheless. Have you encountered this?

When I examine any visual medium, I am looking for representation: people who look like me or represent marginalized groups in society. Are there black female doctors? Are there black male leaders? Are there Asian people? What about Middle Eastern? Learning can and should challenge the intellect and imagination through imagery and storytelling, highlighting the concepts being taught. Thus, when I choose images or graphics or write case studies for my courses, I aim for inclusivity, not erasure. My goal is to create stories and case studies that incorporate a large swath of people and backgrounds for the goal of learning.

The other disturbing issue that I've encountered is what I call culturally sensitive hubris. This behavior is demonstrated by people who think they are on the needle of DEI issues but instead tread very quickly into stereotypes. Let me give an example. A person reviewed a course I created and, after looking at a graphic of two people whom I named Dana and Jake, suggested that I use "culturally sensitive names" when discussing characters. What does that mean? I contacted the project manager and asked her what types of names are culturally sensitive. Who decides? I'm a black woman, and my given name is Kandice Kidd. Morgan, Cathy, Angela, and Kevin are the actual names of black friends and relatives. How does one determine what a culturally sensitive name is?

How do we avoid this when designing courses? Or push back at this when working with our subject matter experts?

Thus, when I choose images or graphics or write case studies for my courses, I aim for inclusivity, not erasure.

1.) Ensure that you include images demonstrating various people of all colors, backgrounds, and abilities. Make sure to research that you don't mistakenly delve into harmful stereotypes.

2.) Point out that we want to include rather than exclude groups of people; the goal is for everyone to have an opportunity to thrive.

3.) Place people of color in prominent roles or non-traditional roles or situations in your courses. Can the CEO be a woman wearing a hijab? Why not?

4.) Create a dialogue by asking questions and stating concerns about imbalance.

5.) Approach from a position of curiosity rather than deference or defensiveness. "Why is this an issue? What about this image seems alienating to you?"

I want to hear from you. What do you think about this? Have you felt pressure to reduce the number of images or references to certain people in your courses? Maybe you have a different opinion. Tell me more.

*A little bit of trivia: my mother liked the actress Candice Bergen, who is white, and especially her name, which inspired my name. She spelled it with a K to match my brother, Kevin. No black woman inspired my first name. Was my mother not culturally sensitive?


Oct 23, 2023

I struggle in designing my content as well when it comes to this and choosing characters. Where I work is mostly male dominant so I struggle with what characters to use that are all inclusive, but also want to make things relatable. I think this is a constant struggle to appropriately proportion DEI. Good read!


Priya Kumar
Priya Kumar
Oct 20, 2023

This is a very candid account of the kind of push & pulls IDs go through from various quarters , particularly stakeholders who profess to be flag bearers of DEI


Hey, I'm Kandice

I'm a learning expert with tons of experience managing, designing, and developing learning programs as a solo learning leader. I love sharing my ideas and thoughts on how I do it and manage to enjoy it...most of the time. 

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