How to Facilitate and Nurture Diversity in Your Learning Community

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” — Stephen R. Covey

Have you ever wondered how it would feel to work and learn in an environment where everyone had the same skills, experiences, strengths /weaknesses, and the same preferences in terms of learning topics and projects? How would it make you feel? How much do you think you could grow, learn new things, and develop new skills?

In today’s blog post, we will seek answers to:

  • How the human need to belong and fit in affects the way people behave in a community
  • What group dynamics is and what fundamental pillars communities are built on
  • How we can apply these key concepts to education and help learners learn and grow through diverse environments
  • Strategies and techniques you can implement to better understand diversity and improve your personal and professional skills.

Why people desire to belong and fit in

The sense of belonging and the need to be accepted by the members of a community (work team, learning or study group, family, group of friends, etc.) is one of the core needs people experience.

Belongingness not only forms our own identity, values and beliefs but also motivates us to put effort into building positive relationships and to work on our best selves.

When we find a community that we are eager to belong in, we naturally tend to conform with the community set of values, beliefs, behaviours and expectations.

The more they match with our own sets, the more confident and accepted we feel in the group.

This is a good thing, however, in some instances, too much conformity can do more harm than good.

Group dynamics and its impact on community

Conformity sometimes referred to as a groupthink, means that we accept and identify with the social norms of a community we are part of.

Members whose behaviour goes against the expected behavioural norms risk conflict or social rejection by the social group.

Communities are like living organisms and keeping in mind the dynamics will help you create an inclusive, accepting and unique learning environment.

Promoting diversity as a core community value

The principles above reflect the dynamics and fundamental pillars communities are built on.

This includes sense of belongingness, acceptance, social norms, risk/fear of social rejection, common values, behaviours, beliefs and expectations.

Communities are rarely ever homogenous environments, whereby everyone has the same values, experiences, strengths, weaknesses, and skills.

The question is how communities accept differences and encourage diversity among its members, and how comfortable its members feel to express a different opinion or attitude.

There is a large spectrum of communities, from diverse-promoting to conform-expecting.

Imagine you are part of a work community where everyone likes playing chess. You seem to be the only one avoiding it, it’s simply not your thing.

In a diverse-promoting community, your other likes and strengths are encouraged, whilst in a conform-expecting workplace, you’ll probably learn to like chess (because it’s expected if you want to fit in).

Facilitating and nurturing diversity will help everyone be themselves, inspire others, grow personally and professionally, help your community improve as a whole and achieve its goals more effectively. The benefits are limitless!

How to facilitate and nurture diversity in a learning community

Most often, diversity is linked to cultural differences and similarities. However, diversity is much more complex than that.

In a learning environment, be it face-to-face or online, you might experience a wide range of differences between students. These may include unique personalities, age, language capabilities, previous experiences, communication styles, aspirations and ambitions, motivations and drivers, expectations, strengths and weaknesses, cultural background, attitudes and mindsets, stress resistance and coping mechanisms, the need to succeed and lead, etc. You have an idea.

“The real skill of a facilitator and a teacher is to accept differences and help every student in a learning community reach their potential to the fullest.”

To help you begin nurturing more diverse learning communities, we’ve prepared 5 winning strategies and techniques you can apply to face-to-face, blended and/or purely online learning facilitation.

5 Winning strategies and techniques for facilitators and teachers

1. Promote fairness, equity and provide equal opportunities to learn and grow

Promoting fairness, equity and providing equal opportunities to learn and grow for each student in your learning community is a fundamental skill if you want to succeed in creating diverse and inclusive learning communities.

You might experience different personalities in your learning community, from strongly introverted to greatly extroverted students.

I experienced it as a teacher too and one day, I realised how easy it was to overlook introverted students and focus the attention on extroverts who felt more confident to speak up, ask thought-provoking questions, challenge other students and express their opinions and thoughts loudly.

Reflecting on my own teaching practices and on students’ needs helped me to create a much more inclusive learning community.

What could have happened if I had not changed the course of action? Introverted students may have perceived extraversion as being a desired social norm and they might have tried to conform and become extraverted in nature.

This goal is almost impossible and would have most likely, lead to students experiencing a sense of failure and discomfort.

Promoting diversity in this particular learning environment means that introverted and extroverted students are given equal opportunities to learn and grow. Make sure that their voices are listened to equally so everybody feels accepted, involved respected.

Powerful techniques and strategies you could consider and implement are mentoring, pairing up students, group activities, guiding students to develop better social and communication skills, empathy, self-awareness and social awareness, reflecting on social situations you and students experience in learning, using drama and literature to solve social paradigms, and enhance two-way communication within your community of learners.

Creating a non-judgemental and respectful learning environment

This is a good space to mention the importance of creating a non-judgemental learning environment.

Diversity, in essence, means accepting differences and perceiving them as community strengths rather than weaknesses.

Only in a non-judgemental and respectful community, students can feel confident to express and accept their differences in opinions, likes and dislikes, attitudes, values and behaviours.

How can you create a non-judgmental and respectful learning environment? The most effective techniques and strategies you might like to put into practice are building rapport with students, being respectful towards students and role modelling behaviour, setting the tone, setting positive communication flow between you and students and being empathetic.

2. Learn and upskill yourself/your team of facilitators

Every relationship requires work, effort, time and determination.

If you want to build strong, respectful and positive relationships with your students, it will require you to work on it continuously. The time and effort you invest will lead to great returns. 

After identifying skills you’d like to improve, you might like to join a short online course, face-to-face course, attend an evening workshop, meet with an expert doing a presentation, your options are infinite!

3. Get in touch with people from different cultural backgrounds

Have you ever experienced talking with a person from a different cultural background, where you tried to convince them that your arguments and ideas were correct? In many cases, most of us have been in this position.

If you live in a culturally diverse community, don’t be shy to reach out.

The more you talk to people from different countries, the more you’ll be able to understand how they see the world, you’ll learn to look at things from different perspectives and truly understand what they’re trying to say to you.

Most importantly, travelling will help you accept different values, behaviour, beliefs and expectations and see them as important as your own.

If you’re not surrounded by people with different backgrounds, you can benefit from travelling.

At first sight, this might seem a bit odd but travelling is one of the best things you can do if you want to broaden your horizons and open your mind to different things in life that you simply couldn’t experience in your everyday life.

4. Overcome your own stereotypes and biases

Stereotypes and biases can be huge drawbacks in creating a diverse and inclusive learning community.

Think about one common stereotype and how it affects the way you perceive it. Got it?

Increasing self-awareness of stereotypes and biases in everyday situations can help you overcome them and be more open to new things in life.

In the end, your attitudes and the way you look at differences, will be projected into the learning community and have a significant impact on your students.

5. Create a collaborative and sharing space to learn

The last strategy encapsulates everything we discussed so far. Creating a collaborative sharing space to learn will help students become more confident and connected learners.

Giving them space to express their true selves, what they like and dislike or what their thoughts are, will encourage them to share not only what they learn but also who they are.

An online learning community is a good place to create activities that encourage students to share what relates to their own lives, experiences, passions or knowledge.

You might like to ask for a feedback or learning reflections so your students will know that their voice matters to you.

What are your thoughts on diversity in learning community? Share with us in the comments below!