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Jul 10, 2014 Jennifer Hofmann

Cultural Intelligence for Learning Professionals

Today's virtual learning platforms are creating global classrooms. Are you ready?

Cultural Intelligence Globe

Globalization, new learning technologies and dispersed workforces have provided us with a much more diverse learner base than ever before. Naturally, the virtual classroom paves the way for working with these global audiences more easily. How are you adapting to respond to these changes in your classroom? 

One of the greatest advantages of the virtual classroom is the fact that we can reach such a diverse global audience – often taking our homegrown training sessions to other colleagues or audiences around the world.   

However, creating programs that work globally is not as simple as just putting that material into a virtual classroom. You would think that if it "works here" it would work "over there." Not necessarily.

Often our session evaluations tell us a different story – the facilitator may not connect with the audience in the same way, learners may not really have taken to the virtual platform (preferring face-to-face sessions), or perhaps learners demonstrate that they had difficulty with the pace of the session.

There are so many elements that can give us a clue as to WHY a previously successful program appears to flop when delivered outside of the country where it was designed!

As global audiences expand, trainers need to develop a ‘cultural intelligence’ competency.  To do this we need to:

  1. Identify how our own culture interacts with other and affects how we deliver content;
  2. Recognize the influence culture plays in the classroom; and
  3. Adjust our existing instructional design and facilitation skills to accommodate a global audience.

For those of us who have not developed this competency, there are some very common problems that result. Three of the most common are listed below. Maybe you recognize them as having occurred in your own virtual training program.

Problem #1: The facilitator may not connect with the audience in the same way.

Often we can really engage with our own home audience because we know what to expect, we know how our audience is likely to react because they understand the phrases or expressions that we use. However, it is important to realize that this is often NOT the case with many other audiences.

Consider that many of our global audiences will have English as a second language (ESL) so when we use our own idioms and phrases they often mean nothing to those learners. In fact often these phrases will likely confuse those learners and as a result they do not want to call out or even ask a question as to what the phrase means so that they can avoid appearing foolish.

We need to keep our language usage in check and be sure to think ahead to consider if the language we use is likely to confuse non-native English speakers. Even if it's a common saying or idiom in your country, consider eliminating it from the session.

Problem #2:  Learners may not like virtual classroom sessions, preferring face-to-face sessions.

There can be many different reasons why learners prefer face-to-face, but pay special consideration to the following two realities.

Reality: Our audience often has limited/no experience of being in a virtual classroom so naturally they have a tendency to prefer a face-to-face session. The key to engaging our learners in the virtual classroom is to ensure our audience becomes comfortable with the new technology by creating a “learn how to learn online” session where new learners can practice with the technology in a fun way, one where they are encouraged to engage with the technology, and to try the tools to become familiar with them before having to use them to learn something new.

Reality: Relationships between facilitator and learner are different from culture to culture. For instance, traditional Japanese learners will have been brought up in an environment where the teacher (facilitator) directs what learners should do or how they should be, they are to remain quiet and not to interrupt the teacher. Consider how different that is with a U.S. teacher/learner relationship where interruptions are frequent, learners ask questions, challenge and express opinions. It's truly a totally different learning environment.

So having an “invisible” facilitator can cause our audience difficulty in connecting with our facilitator in the virtual classroom. Not only are we potentially asking people to learn in a second language from a facilitator originating from a different culture, we are taking away the physical language cues on which they have come to depend.

Consider how you establish YOUR credibility in the session – how will you present yourself (webcam perhaps?) and how will you create an environment that is conducive for learning for your global audience?

Problem #3:  Learners demonstrate that they have difficulty with the pace of the program.

So very often we will try and get our global audience who may have English as a second or third language to do the SAME activity in the SAME amount of time as our native audience. This is a mistake.

Our ESL learner cannot possibly work at this pace, but we expect them to. Consider how quickly you can translate from Spanish to English and then reply in Spanish! We cannot expect our global audience to work at the same speed as our native audience.

Our seven-minute activity may actually take our global audience 12 minutes, so overall our 90-minute session may need to be a 120-minute session for our global audience.

Often we can help our learners by providing both verbal and written instruction, many ESL learners are better conversing in written English rather than spoken English.

There are, of course, many additional potential problems you can encounter in a multicultural classroom. Some will be obvious. Some will be culturally specific. In order for our global learners to be successful, we need to become culturally intelligent.

In today’s global training workplace we ALL have an on-going need to become more culturally intelligent – as trainers, facilitators and educators becoming more culturally aware of what challenges these global audiences are likely to bring us, understanding how we can adapt to these challenges and demonstrate an awareness that means we can deliver the same successful program to ALL audiences.

Published by Jennifer Hofmann July 10, 2014
Jennifer Hofmann