Previously, I introduced some of the challenges that instructional designers face when designing for cultures that are very different from their own. As more companies expand their eLearning programs on a multinational scale, it is becoming increasingly important that instructional designers have the skills to design culturally responsive and adaptive eLearning.
One way that you can develop this skill is by developing your level of cultural agility—that is the competency that allows you to perform well in various and unfamiliar cultural contexts. As Caliguiri1 explained, with a higher level of cultural agility not only can you better manage yourself in international and multicultural situations, you also will be able to interact more effectively with others from different cultures.
How can you boost your cultural agility?
1. Develop a frame of reference. One of the keys to developing cultural agility is to set aside any assumptions (or premature judgments) that you may have about other cultures and seek to understand the basics of how the cultures are framed. This includes with:
- Communication styles (direct vs indirect)
- Relationships (interpersonal vs. transactional)
- Motivation (status vs. balance)
- Control (external vs. internal)
- Style (formal vs. informal)
- Time (controlled vs. fluid)
With a cultural framework in place, you can learn to leverage the similarities and differences across the cultures in a way that engages and immerses learners from a wide range of backgrounds.
2. Gain culture-specific knowledge. One of the easiest ways to understand other cultures is by researching them before interacting with them to increase your cultural intelligence. Searching the internet, reading books, watching movies, and interacting with co-workers and friends from other cultures are great ways to gain culture-specific knowledge that can be leveraged to help you effectively work with and design for learners in other cultures.
3. Be curious. Learn methods for cross-cultural discovery. I can remember traveling to Europe with a Spanish class several years ago, when a group from another culture asked to take a picture of us. As we questioned them, they explained that they wanted the picture because, in their mind, we were “so different.” However, after observing and chatting with us, they quickly discovered that we really had a lot of the same interests.
Through curiosity and discovery (by observing and asking questions) we came to appreciate each other’s similarities and differences and leveraged that to form a lasting friendship that took us beyond our travels together.
4. Understand the Cross-Cultural Adjustment Process. Learning to interact with other cultures is not always easy or comfortable. A cognitive understanding of the behavioral changes that may be required—such as knowing that a handshake is considered overly formal or a certain gesture is considered inappropriate—is only the first step to successfully interacting with other cultures.
Common feelings ranging from excitement to anxiety to uneasiness and a loss of perspective can occur when beginning to interact with unfamiliar cultures. These cross-cultural adjustment challenges can be minimized by:
- Gaining the knowledge of the principles of cross-cultural interactions, including the way the cultures differ, and what behavioral changes may be required
- Practicing mindfulness. Focus your attention on cues that may require adjustments, and reflect on what is being observed
- Building a repertoire of behavioral skills to adapt to different cultural contexts
5. Reflect. When you interact with people from different cultures, be sure to take time to process the experience. Ask yourself questions, such as:
- What seemed familiar or different?
- What was interesting?
- What insight did I gain about the work done or people involved?
- What could I focus on to deepen my understanding or improve future experiences?
As you work to boost your cultural agility, keep in mind that it is a journey. Ultimately, your ability to thrive in new and unfamiliar situations—and succeed in the future—will depend on your commitment to continuous growth and learning.
Contact us to learn how eLearning Brothers Custom Solutions team can help you develop multicultural eLearning that hits all the right notes.
1 Caligiuri, Paula. Cultural Agility: Building a Pipeline of Successful Global Professionals. Wiley. Kindle Edition.