Do we talk enough about diversity, equity and inclusion in instructional design? Do we do enough? DesignxHumanity (Design By Humanity) is changing the conversation and taking action. Their website explains that they are “a design collective and apprenticeship program pairing experienced creatives with fresh faces to collaborate on real-world projects advocating for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).” The organization works on all topics regarding equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism. They also provide “business consultation, curriculum design, and eLearning subject matter expertise at no cost to charitable organizations.” I spoke with Nyla Spooner, cofounder of DesignxHumanity.
Connie: How did DxH get started?
Nyla: I was speaking on some panels about the intersection of race and gender and what we do in learning and development. And then I crossed paths with Tommy Sila, who was a learning experience designer. He wanted to get Learning and Development (L&D) folks together to do something. At that time, we were going to work on anti-racist training and get it out there. That was the initial call to action. And he asked if I wanted to participate, so, I agreed.
We thought it was going to be a few of us working on a couple of projects and talking to organizations who were working to beef up their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training. And then we had something like 400 people sign up, showing interest in working towards this.
Connie: That’s pretty amazing. Why do you think that happened?
Nyla: To me, what that demonstrated was that people really were moved by what they had seen in that George Floyd video. All these people signed up and then we felt a responsibility to do something really positive with this. What was going to be just a short one-off project turned into something more and we were figuring it out as we were building it. So it turned into focusing on helping Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) upskill into L&D and get mentorship, sponsorship, and jobs, in Learning and Development.
Connie: What kind of instructional design work have you done so far?
Nyla: We’ve worked with a really great group of people and it’s all volunteer work. Nobody is getting paid. Our next big goal is to start writing grant proposals to fund the vision.
Our first cohort had something like 20 teams and each team had around eight to 10 people. So it was a large group of people working on DEI anti-racist topics. And that was the first iteration.
Connie: So, how have things evolved?
Nyla: We started around a year ago. I think it started maybe the first or second week of June (2020), and we spent all of July trying to get the infrastructure laid out, because at this point there were so many people who wanted to participate and there were only like three or four of us doing all this organizing. So, it was tough and we onboarded a few more people—really great people.
These were volunteers who had many, many years in instructional design and also some were brand new. They helped us build out the organization. And I will say it has really evolved. We thought it was just going to be a few of us working on a project, and then it evolved into something more. At this point, we feel that it’s an opportunity to upskill and get some students working on a remote team. But also really, hopefully you’re working on subject matter where you’re also learning.
Connie: That’s true. There is a lot for many of us to learn.
Nyla: I think a lot of times as an instructional designer, I separate myself from the content and just focus on the design. Through this experience, I’ve learned that I can really get involved in the content as well. And that can be beneficial. So asking people to pause and not only say, what did you learn about working on this remote team and applying this framework to your design? But also, what did you learn about anti-racist ideology, or Black history in general or Asian American history or, capitalism?
It’s been really interesting and it has also been difficult at times—having difficult conversations with people about these topics. But overall, I’ve grown as a designer and as a person and as a leader as well.
Connie: I imagine you have really grown as a leader taking this on. Are there products or courses that the first cohort developed that we can see?
Nyla: When we started, we reached out to EdApp. They are a mobile first tool and they have their own LMS and their own platform. So, a lot of the courses have been posted there.
Anybody can go in and develop courses with EdApp and then those courses are available to all. They also recruit for instructional designers. We also had a 360 video course published where you pick through the different art pieces in our virtual art gallery and learn about Black history that way. And then I think he had a couple built in some other tools that were posted on our Google site.
Connie: When you look for volunteers to mentor people, what kind of skills would you like them to have? How much experience?
Nyla: So I have a complex response to that. I started mentoring people when I was pretty new. I made sure to be clear with them what I would share. For example, “I’m sharing with you, how to get into, the career side of instructional design. I’m sharing the stuff that I didn’t know when I was starting the job. But, if you need advice that goes into case studies, from somebody who’s been working for 20 years in a large organization, then I can’t help you there.”
Now I have some more experience, so I don’t want to say that you have to have all this experience, but just be realistic about what you can help people with. So if you can help people with actual instructional design and performance improvement, that’s good. And if you have experienced working with big global organizations or remote teams for a while, that’s helpful. I would welcome that kind of seasoned mentorship.
If the feeling of being new in L&D is fresh to you, I think that you could still mentor because you can give advice on job searches and finding a job. Like, “these are the things I did to get a job.” I still think that’s valuable information. So I think it just depends on what area you’re comfortable sharing information.
Connie: When someone comes to you looking for mentorship, are they usually looking for an internship in a company? What type of experience are they looking for?
Nyla: It seems like most people are looking for things to put in their portfolio. A lot of our volunteers really just wanted to do something after what happened with George Floyd and after they witnessed with their eyes, what happened. I think some people need a little direction in their activism and I tell people a lot that you can start within the confines of what you already do at work. You know, that’s important too. So I think a lot of people really just wanted to help, but there were also people who wanted experience. They’re like, I’ve never worked in a remote team, or I want to put something in my portfolio, but I don’t want to just make something up you know, I’m just trying to diversify my portfolio. And some people are trying to network.
Connie: There seems to be an overlap between the people looking for mentors—participants—and the people who want to volunteer. That’s unusual!
Nyla: That’s why it was hard for me to answer. There are groups of people who just want to volunteer as mentors. And then there are people who actually want to participate in our cohort and work on a project. And occasionally there’ll be some overlap. We use a modified version of agile, so we would have a product owner in the team. And usually that would be somebody who is a mentor and who would guide somebody who’s a novice, maybe on the instructional design process or the process overall. But sometimes teams are made up of complete novices. So then in that case, we would need to match them with a mentor.
Connie: Got it. I have one last question. How do your cohorts work?
Nyla: Now we’re at a point where we’re going to launch a cohort soon and that’s just going to be five teams. So we had twenty teams before and we’re bringing it down to five. And then each team will have someone on the admin side dedicated to helping them through the process. And there will be no more than eight to ten people per team. It will be much smaller than before. This time we have a theme for them to work off of, which is mutual aid. So they can choose any topic to build a course on around that theme. They will have eight weeks to complete the whole process. And then we’ll close out that cohort. We have QA/QC at the end. All of the courses have to be reviewed and meet our style guide before they get published.
Connie: Thanks for your time today Nyla. Good speaking with you about diversity in instructional design and I’ll be spreading the word. You’re doing great work.
Nyla: Thanks for reaching out to us.