Posted by: bbannan | April 19, 2009

Addressing Culture Differences – Susanne

We have had several interesting class discussions about cultural issues when working in project teams. This led me to also think about how we should be considering cultural differences in our instructional design process. This seems to be becoming more important as many instructional solutions need to support audiences across international boundaries. Also, as Shahron discussed more and more organizations are creating educational content to be exported to other countries. This makes me wonder, as we outsource development of learning products to other countries can they effectively address our learners’ cultural needs?

I found the article Cultural Competence and Instructional Design: Exploration Research into the Delivery of Online Instruction Cross-Culturally (Rogers, Graham, and Mayes) to be very interesting as it examines how several instructional designers are developing instruction for other countries. The authors identified a number challenges facing instructional designers such as limited awareness and understanding of the actual culture differences, lack of formal training in cultural awareness, and lack of importance placed on culture differences in the design process.

After reviewing this article, do you think it is feasible to develop effective instruction for learners who come from cultures that are foreign to us? Do you think there are any benefits for developing instruction across culture boundaries?
What can be done to better address culture differences in instructional design?

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Responses

  1. Instruction can be as much an art as a technique, especially when the designer – and ultimately the presenter – moves from a known, familiar audience to a different learner population base. This is hardly a new phenomenon. When I came into the instructional arena in the 60s, one of my tasks was to deliver electronics training to members of other military forces. I quickly learned that different groups of learners required different sets of teaching protocols. Your actions, cultural adherence, and willingness to meet the learners on familiar ground often made the difference between success and failure in the classroom.

    After leaving the military, I began my instructional design career with an organization whose product training was presented world-wide. Again, I found it was not only what you said, but how you said it – and more importantly, how you interacted with the audience. If an instructional designer is to be successful on an international basis, or even in the culturally diverse country that is known as the United States, it is critical that the abilities, needs and requirements of the targeted audience be understood.

    In the years (decades) since my first entry into training, nothing has changed – and everything has changed. Where we once designed courses that were presented to a reasonably well known audience, or were given a few times over a known time-frame, allowing changes to be made to fit new audience requirements, we now design learning that is immediately available to a culturally diverse global market. We often do not have the luxury of knowing who will be taking the training.

    The challenge can seem daunting. How do you ensure that the information you wish to present to a learner can be presented in a manner that does not cause confusion, or even anger, when viewed through the filter of his or her culture?
    To some degree, the type of training will determine the style and format. Pure technical training is a world of concepts, protocols, and processes. It is usually presented in a format that is familiar throughout the world’s technical population. Being technical in nature, it is less likely to affect, or be affected by, a user’s cultural makeup.

    Soft-skills training is another issue entirely. For ventures into this design arena, it is important to consider one of two paths. Either attempt to create a neutral presentation format (often difficult or impossible) or be prepared to create a modularized training format that can contain cultural sub modules that are paired with the main modules according to the audience being presented to. While not as effective as the development of versions of a course tailored to each cultural audience, this addition of an acknowledgment of the cultural requirements of an audience can do much for the effective learning taking place by a user.

    If these sub-modules are thoughtfully developed as aids and explanations that the user can access to understand what the presenter is trying to portray, the resulting success of the instruction can be enhanced.

    Finally, in this age of the world classroom, it is important to have a method of interactive feedback and communication between the learners you are trying to reach and yourself. How complex and inclusive this will be is often determined by the importance you attach to the instruction you have created (and in some part, to cost).

    As a final word of encouragement, I offer this. We are becoming a world that is not necessarily less diverse, but more willing to put up with the clumsy attempts of others to interact with us.

  2. I am glad you brought this topic here in the blog… It’s always a challenge to pursue studies either at a different country or using different instructional material. I remember when I was doing my undergraduate in CR, all the books where in English and I had to deal not only with the language but also the way the information was presented… Not only that, some professors had pursued studies at Germany and other countries and they brought “new learning activities/strategies” that we were unfamiliar with… Because of my previous personal experience I didn’t have a lot of problems to assimilate those changes but some people did…

    I think no matter we are, as instructors/teachers/designers we should consider the background of our users. This will allow us to meet users needs. Receiving feedback from their experience as soon as possible (not only at the end as traditional done) we allow us to improve our work and do the learning more attractive.


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