Caveo Learning

Corporate Strategy and Learning Center

8 Challenges That Can Make or Break a Cross-Cultural Learning Program

Posted by Renie McClay on December 4, 2014

cross-cultural2Designing classroom training, virtual learning, or eLearning for multiple audiences is becoming commonplace for many companies. While it can be energizing and exciting, there are many things to consider when attempting successful instructional design of global training.

One of the first priorities is to have global representation in the instructional design and review stages. This input will help prevent rework and make sure all relevant interests are being considered.

Aligning objectives across countries and cultures is an often overlooked step. In addition to varied cultures, there are often different business practices. Finding these out sooner rather than later is critical.

Your typical audience analysis needs to go deeper when planning for global learning. Here are 8 key considerations that can make or break your cross-cultural learning program.

1. Language Proficiency

Keep asking follow-up questions beyond “Do they speak English?” or “Is English their primary language?” Are they better at reading or listening? How well do they speak? Identify the range of skills for the audience. It can affect the planning as well as the facilitation. In eLearning, participants can listen again and again. In live classrooms it is more complex. Have an ally in the classroom.

2. Time

What are appropriate start and end times? What is customary for lunch and breaks? Are the participants start-time focused or event focused? In some countries, people will arrive an hour after the posted start time. This is information a training facilitator will need to know. Language proficiency will affect how much content can be covered per day.

3. Communication

Consider how best to communicate with participants and gather information. Are email and social media widely used? Do you need to rely primarily on the telephone to relay important messages?

4. Technology

Know ahead of time what technology is needed, how fast, and its compatibility with various systems in use. Have information backup available. Ask about Internet connectivity and reliability and if power outages will be an issue. Be wary of viruses, if using flash drives.

5. Audience Demographics

Will both genders be in the room? If so, what do you need to know about seating or activities? Will managers be in the room? Will the manager’s presence help stimulate conversation or stifle it? Will participants from this culture be comfortable asking questions of the facilitator? Check to see what implications may impact the curriculum design. Will multiple cultures be in the same room, and are there any implications there?

6. Content

Localizing will help people understand the message. This means using references the audience can relate to (like a soccer or cricket reference, rather than a baseball example). Build in flexibility to adapt in case something isn’t working. It may need to be adjusted on the fly. Use global SMEs for help with this. When writing learning objectives, list actions that can be easily observed, such as describe, explain, perform, or demonstrate.

7. Translation

You may need to simplify complex concepts if materials will be translated or if an in-class interpreter is used. Design the training deliverables (slides, handouts, resources) with translation in mind. Oftentimes, people need to break the content up into modules for ease in understanding. Translated workshops are demanding for both the instructor and the participants. 

If designing for participants in a language that is not their primary language, put as much as possible in a handout or PowerPoint presentation. Many people are better at reading than listening or speaking in a different language. Providing the material in advance can help ensure success because they can look up vocabulary. 

8. Interaction

Ask about the preferences of the audience for interaction. In some countries, case studies and role plays are not typically done. It is important to really set the stage, give the reason and benefit for the activity, and create the right classroom training climate for those activities. And plan a backup method in case it is needed.

It is possible to have success facilitating role-plays or engagement in cultures that are not usually receptive to it. However, there are plenty of stories of training facilitators who were unable to move past silent participants and people not participating in the planned activities. Having alternatives so you can continue to create a good learning environment will be helpful.

When designing or delivering learning, use caution with:

  • Geographic or historical references
  • Sports analogies that do not cross borders (basketball, baseball)
  • Jargon, slang, clichés
  • Acronyms and abbreviations
  • Homophones (hear, here)
  • References to the human body, animals, sex, alcohol, politics, or religion
  • Humor

There are many factors to consider when designing learning solutions for varied countries and varied cultures. The basic adult learning principles still apply, but some areas, like the audience analysis, will need to be more detailed. Asking good questions and adaptability are important qualities for the learning professional to bring to these corporate education projects.

Topics: Instructional Design, Global Learning

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