Why should instructional designers undergo cross-cultural training? Because developing learning activities that are compelling and engaging in their native language is already challenging enough, but trying to get the same result in three or even more different languages is far more demanding. Taking the time to understand your colleagues and learners in different cultures makes all the difference! Above all, it leads to trust-based relationships. Still not convinced? Here are five benefits of cross-cultural training for instructional designers.
1. Learn how to be culturally “correct” (= appropriate) in your communication style. Most cultures tend to tackle learning problems by looking at the positive, while some cultures find it the norm to provide direct, negative feedback when discussing a problem. There are cultures that prefer an indirect, soft tone to their approach, while others are straightforward and may even seem painfully blunt to people from other cultures who are not used to it. Nevertheless, all styles are “correct” in their cultures. Understanding the differences in cultural communication styles will help you design activities that will allow your target audience to better understand the content and reduce the possibility of offense being taken.
2. Have a Global Mindset. When developing online learning for a global audience there are many things to take into consideration. Culture is not only language, food, religion, gender roles, sports, and family dynamics; culture is a mindset. And when it comes to online learning, culture will determine not only what people learn, but how they learn.
Cross-cultural training will help instructional designers understand how factors that go well beyond language, such as gender, religion and age, all affect learning. For example, you may have audiences in Mexico and Spain. They both speak Spanish (although the differences between Spanish in Spain and in the various Latin American countries are worth a separate blog post in themselves), but culturally, Spain and Mexico are very different. Cross-cultural training will allow you to appreciate different cultures and recognize culturally based behavior. All of which will help you develop higher quality global training.
3. Understand how culture affects interaction and engagement. Interaction and engagement vary greatly from one culture to another. In some cultures learners are expected and encouraged to engage and ask questions and challenge ideas. In some other cultures that is not acceptable. Understanding the differences is a very important part of knowing your audience. Especially when trying to engage your global audience in such activities as role playing. Not all cultures will feel comfortable participating. The best solution is to be diverse in your activities. Cross-cultural training will provide you with insight to help you better understand your audience, so that you do not put them in embarrassing situations.
4. Design for a Global Audience. Whether as a result of an expansion plan, merger or acquisition, your company is now a global organization. Previously you were developing courses and activities for only one audience in the language of your company’s home country. Now you have audiences from different countries with different languages. Of course, there are many localization companies that can translate content, localize courseware, and help ensure your project is culturally acceptable, but just acceptable. For the most part localization companies can only work with what you give them. The old adage GIGO, “garbage in, garbage out”, from the early days of computers, applies equally to translation.
Cross-cultural training helps instructional designers understand their global workplace, enabling them to design activities that will facilitate accurate localization, which will in turn deliver content that is culturally and linguistically appropriate.
5. Leverage informal learning options. Discussion of content among learners can lead to better understanding and adoption, and this is especially relevant when the training is created and delivered by people from other cultural backgrounds. Following up after a training event (lunch-and-learns, meetings to discuss adoption or barriers, success stories, discussions of scenarios) helps to increase connections and “stickiness”. Likewise, mentoring can be a valuable tool as a bridge to adoption and closing knowledge gaps.
Cross-cultural training will be of the greatest benefit to instructional designers with a real desire to learn about new cultures and be empathetic with other people, and who are also passionate about developing engaging material for their global audience. And that cannot be learned by merely reading books or watching videos. To be fully effective, cross-cultural training requires you to interact and engage. Online or offline, it does not matter, as long as you can immerse yourself in the course content in a way that allows you to see your material through the eyes of your learners who do not speak your language or share your culture.