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Why does inclusive learning matter?

'Why does inclusive learning matter?' In this article we place inclusive practice into the context of learning in higher education.
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© University of York

What do we mean by inclusive practice in relation to learning?

Inclusive practice in teaching, learning and assessment is an approach which recognises, reflects and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences and identities of the student body within higher education institutions.

It’s important because it gives all students the opportunity to fully take part in the higher education community, and to flourish in their academic studies, creating citizens of the future who are able to engage confidently with the diversity of regional, national and global society.

Inclusive practice is not a static state, but a way of working, being and relating to others – it is an ongoing, reflective process that is constantly developing and transforming. It builds on existing best practice to develop new ways of working that can eventually lead to cultural change. Consistent and meaningful inclusive practice helps to create environments that foster belonging and strengthening relationships and community.

Why inclusive learning in higher education?

It is important to recognise that our own interactions and experiences within higher education will be different. In different situations throughout university, some students’ circumstances and experiences may be privileged while others may be marginalised or excluded. Thinking about privilege, inequality and exclusion provides an opportunity to critically reflect on our learning experiences so that we may work towards a more just and inclusive world.

Outlined below are some of the benefits of a more inclusive higher education environment:

  • Inclusive learning and teaching creates an environment in which all students are taught in ways that recognise their individual differences. It is rooted in a belief that learning and teaching for all is enriched by the diverse backgrounds and experiences of our students.
  • Inclusive practice seeks to ensure that the diverse learning needs of all students are met, recognising that every student is unique, bringing with them their own background and prior learning experiences, set of skills and knowledge, and identity and individual needs.
  • Inclusive practice can enhance student engagement and well-being as it encourages all students to fully participate in learning activities and to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and strengths through assessment.
  • An inclusive curriculum seeks to recognise the value of knowledge, voices and experiences that have tended to be systematically silenced or marginalised.

One of the reasons why inclusive practice is important, is because of the many inequalities within higher education, which can be seen in university awarding gaps.

Awarding gaps: the differential degree outcomes between students from underrepresented groups and their peers.

For example, statistics from the Office for Students indicate that there is an average awarding gap of 22.1% points between black students and their white peers across all English Higher Education providers. Another statistic demonstrates that there is a 9.9% point awarding gap between ‘mature students’ (students over the age of 21 when entering into higher education) and ‘younger’ peers. (Read more about the degree awarding gaps in this study by the University of Winchester: Degree-awarding gaps: a targeted approach).

You can never generalise the experience of an individual and their learning journey within higher education, however it is hugely important that we address these institutional inequalities head-on. Through adopting and fostering inclusive learning approaches, we are actively helping to address such awarding gaps, and making higher education better for all.

Now over to you…

Can you think of any other benefits to inclusive learning? These could be personal benefits for students or staff, or wider institutional benefits.

Share your thoughts with your fellow learners in the comments section.

© University of York
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Inclusive Learning for Students: Building inclusive practice into your life during higher education, and beyond

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