Designing Training for Multicultural Learners
Part Ten: 1999 Update
by: Dawn Zintel
The Editor of The Networker, which originally published the series, asked me to think about what has changed since I wrote the articles in 1993. In reviewing the articles, I believe that most of what I wrote is still relevant today. The one area that I would probably not write so much about is learning styles. While I think that instructional designers need to be cognizant of differences in learning styles, I don't think the learning style models should be the primary focus. Instead, probably the best way to find out how local audiences will respond to our training is to examine their educational systems at the high school and university level. Then, find out as much as possible about how training is delivered within their companies. It is also important to determine whether they are a low context or high context culture. The cultural norms have the most influence on learning styles.
In the last five years, I have found three areas to be always challenging when designing and developing training for delivery worldwide:
- Written and graphic communication
- Cultural and business context
Written and Graphic Communication
How we use the English language can be a problem. My experience with course developers in the U.S. is that they use acronyms, colloquialisms, and analogies liberally in their training materials. These may not make sense to people in other countries. Much of our writing is wordy with long, run-on sentences. This makes it difficult to read and it affects comprehension. It can also make accurate translation difficult. Recently, a content expert in England reviewed one of our seminars. He took the opportunity to add some material. It was a wonderful example of how even English speakers have different vocabulary and spelling. So, a decision that U.S. companies face is whether to use American English or U.K. English for instructional materials that are delivered worldwide.
The use of visuals or symbols can also be a problem. A house in the U.S may not look like a house in Africa. A business building in the U.S. may not look like a building in China. Even the stop sign, as we know it, may be different in another country.
Cultural and Business Context
When preparing training in the U.S. for delivery in other countries, we can not assume that what we teach in our courses in the U.S. is appropriate in another country. There are many cultural and business context variables that should be considered. For example, I have found the following items often need to be customized:
- Case studies and scenarios
- Competitive information
- Management models and processes
- Sales models and processes
- Pricing information
- Forms, contracts, agreements
- Products and marketing programs
- Technical support services
- Teamwork models and methods
Technology has brought wonderful changes that benefit learners. It is easier to do research using email. So, we are more likely to receive feedback from afar. However, there are still many countries that do not have reliable, fast or easy access to the Internet. This also affects the delivery of training materials using the World Wide Web. Of course, there are the usual computer hardware and software issues. If we are looking at low tech delivery methodologies, one common misconception is that it is easy to get print documentation photocopied in other countries. However, in most countries there isn't a Kinko's around the corner, and photocopying costs may be prohibitive. I heard a horror story one day of a 300-page manual being sent to India to be printed for a class. The local office had to use their entire printing budget for the year to print that one manual.
I think that in the next five years we will see many changes that will cause us to re-examine how we design and develop training for a multicultural audience. The prolific use of the Internet is already forcing us to re-evaluate our assumptions about learners and training processes. New tools such as translation software and video streaming will have an impact on how people learn in a truly global business environment.
In the meantime, to learn more about designing training for global learners today, I encourage you to read a chapter that Dr. Alicia Rojas and I co-authored for the second edition of ISPI's Handbook of Human Performance Technology (1999). The chapter is called
"Practicing HPT in a Global Business Environment".
There have also been new books and articles written since 1993 that may help you in your quest to learn more about multicultural issues. Here are I few that I found helpful:
Brake, T., Walker, D.M., and Walker, T. Doing Business Internationally: The Guide to Cross-Cultural Success. Burr Ridge, IL: Irwin Professional Publishing, 1995.
Carey, Clare Elizabeth. GlobaLinks Revisited: Cross-Cultural Conditions Affecting HPT. Performance Improvement, 8-13, ISPI, 1998.
Deresky, Helen. International Management. New York, NY: Harper Collins College Publishers, 1994.
Elashmawi, F. & Harris, P.R. Multicultural Management. New Skills for Global Success.Houston,TX: Gulf Publishing Company, 1993.
Harris, P.R. and Moran, R.T. Managing Cultural Differences. 4th Ed, Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing House, Inc., 1996.
Hofstede, Geert. Cultures and Organizations. Software of the Mind. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1997.
O'Hara, M. & Johansen, R. Globalwork: Bridging Distance, Culture, and Time. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994.
Trompenaars, A. and Hampden-Turner, C. Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business. 2nd Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
©1993, 1998, 2002, Dawn E. Zintel