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Designing Training for Multicultural Learners
Part One: The Context

by: Dawn Zintel

Globalization of business is here to stay in this 21st Century. American companies continue to move manufacturing operations offshore. It is not uncommon that projected sales revenues are higher for Europe and Asia than for the U.S. market. At the same time, more foreign companies are opening plants and sales and marketing offices in the U.S. At the core of this global transition are diverse societies that have to acquire new knowledge and different skills. Since training is our business, our world is also changing. We can no longer assume that all of our learners will have English as a first language and that they will be American. Multilingual and multicultural issues are variables that are surfacing more frequently as we figure out whom we have to train. How do we deal with these variables? What new attitudes, knowledge and skills do instructional designers need to acquire?

10 years ago, I began my research on how to design training for multicultural learners. To my surprise, I found little material on the subject. This series, first published by The Networker, a monthly newsletter of the Silicon Valley Chapter of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), was a distillation of ideas based on my research, and it is still mostly valid. Part 10 is an update that I published in 1999 that identifies what, if anything, has changed over the years. Read on to learn more about Going Global.

The goal for this series is:
  • show you the benefits of developing a global mindset.
  • inspire you to study how Americans are different from other cultures.
  • give you an overview of a collaborative instructional systems process for multicultural training.
  • provide practical techniques for you to apply when designing training for the multicultural audience.

To move training into the global arena, there are three distinct actions that can help during the journey: develop a global mindset, develop multicultural instructional design competencies, and apply those competencies for global learners.

Developing a global mindset requires openness to new ideas and to cultural differences in values, perceptions, and behaviors. Developing multicultural instructional design competencies requires an enhancement of knowledge about learning styles, thinking patterns, and instructional methodologies as they relate to multicultural learners. Applying competencies for global learners involves using new processes and techniques to design training that supports the multicultural learner.

How to Develop a Global Mindset
All cultures practice ethnocentrism to some degree: the interpretation of other cultures according to the rules and values of one's own culture. How that translates to instructional designers is that they may believe that everything they develop for their learners will work, no matter where it is being used and by whom. In fact, it may never enter their minds that there could be a problem.

The training community needs to develop a global mindset. That can be accomplished by becoming culturally aware. This involves examining:

  • the norms and values of cultures, including American culture.


  • how other cultures perceive themselves, their place in their society, and in the world, as well as how they perceive Americans.


  • how people behave in different cultures.


  • biases and stereotypes.


  • thinking patterns that are culturally influenced.


  • the influence of language on culture.


  • how non-verbal communication affects perceptions.


  • the ability to empathize with the multicultural/multilingual learner.

The most important prerequisite to developing a global mindset is to become "open" to new paradigms for working in global organizations with multicultural learners. Being "open" will require change in the way learners are viewed, and in the way training is designed.

You may be asking, "Where do I begin?" Unfortunately, there isn't one easy solution. My recommendation is that you start by reading articles and books on the subject, attending multicultural and diversity training classes and conference sessions, traveling to come in contact with other cultures, and working with people from other cultures whenever possible.

In Part Two, I will continue with the theme of How to Develop a Global Mindset. In that article, I will present some information on American culture, how we differ from other cultures, and how that affects the training that we design, develop and present in a global business environment. Future articles will focus on Developing Multicultural Instructional Design Competencies and Applying Competencies for Global Learners.

©1993, 1998, 2002, Dawn E. Zintel

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