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When I taught English in Japan, I quickly realized that it was easier for my students to learn when the content I used was culturally relevant, or at least not based solely on my cultural perspective. If there were cultural elements familiar to them – food, names, places, holidays, images – in our English language lessons, they were more likely to engage with the content. The students weren’t hung up trying to understand something that didn’t make any sense to them. I set aside my own assumptions and took time to consider what would make the most sense from a cultural point of view that was different than my own.

The same is true when we’re creating content for eLearners. The world is getting much smaller and chances are your learners come from many, many different cultural backgrounds. For your content to have the most impact and reach the most people, it needs to be culturally sensitive and reflect a cross-cultural perspective.

How does an eLearning designer create culturally-sensitive content? I recommend these three steps to start: 

Step 1: Understand your personal filters

As you embark on another year of eLearning development, take some time to examine your presumptions. Look at how your background and experience impact the way you see the world and how that might be displayed or conveyed in the courses you create. Consider the role and perspective of others, appreciate the differences, and look for ways that you can make your content meaningful across a variety of cultures.

Step 2: Examine your existing content

Looking at what our existing content can provide an idea of whether we’re balanced in our representation of various cultures, or if we have room to improve. Go through some of your courses and look for the following:

  • Are a variety of cultures represented in the images you use?
  • Does voiceover talent showcase diversity in linguistic style?
  • Will the activities be easy-to-understand, and relevant, across cultures?
  • How balanced are the names of people, places, and things? (E.g., are all the people named Dick and Jane, do they live in Arkansas and only eat hamburgers?)

Step 3: Gather feedback

Truth is: we all have cultural filters. That’s part of what makes us human! And, although we may try, we simply can’t understand every perspective. But that doesn’t mean we can’t seek to try. The best way to find out if your content is culturally sensitive is to ask your learners to give you feedback. Your learners will be happy that you respect their opinion and will most likely be more than willing to offer suggestions about small—or perhaps big— ways that you can modify your content.

Our goal is to help every learner engage with our content. For that content to have positive effects, it needs to reflect a cross-cultural perspective. And, as eLearning designers, we have a responsibility to make all learners feel represented and respected in the content they receive.

How have you found ways to make your eLearning content sensitive to cultural perspectives? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

LizSheffieldBioLiz Sheffield is a freelance writer with a background in training and development. She specializes in writing about everything related to the human side of business. You can contact her via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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