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Designing Training for Multicultural Learners
Part Two: Values, Beliefs and Customs

by: Dawn Zintel

In Part One I wrote that the first step to design training for multicultural learners is to develop a global mindset. I indicated that to accomplish that goal, it is necessary to examine the values, beliefs and customs of our own culture and others. In this article, I will give some examples of values and how they can impact our instructional goals.

Values are the road maps for our lives. They are deep-rooted, often within a person's subconscious. Intercultural communications experts believe that ignorance of ones' own and others' cultural values, beliefs and customs leads a person to have unrealistic expectations of people in other cultures. That, in turn, leads to a breakdown in communications between cultures.

Values that are important to greater or lesser degrees in every culture include individuality, motherhood, hierarchy, masculinity, gratefulness, peace, money, modesty, punctuality, saviorism, Karma, firstness, aggressiveness, collective responsibility, respect for elders, respect for youth, hospitality to guests, inherited property, preservation of environment, color of skin, sacredness of farm land, equality of women, human dignity, efficiency, patriotism, religion, authoritarianism, education, and frankness.

In the short space allotted this article, it is not possible to describe in detail the many values that can have an impact on communication between cultures. However, to show you how values can influence the training process, I will describe four Western values that set us apart from other cultures. They affect how we do business with people in other parts of the world, as well as how we design and deliver training.

Western Values That Make Us Different
Individuality - Members of Western culture, especially Americans, believe that the individual is of paramount importance and a person's opinions should be communicated. Excellence in one's endeavors is often at the expense of families and friends. As a result, people in other cultures may believe that Americans are opinionated and inconsiderate of others' values, beliefs and feelings. This is especially true of people in cultures that believe their primary responsibility is to the group to whom they belong (collective responsibility).

Aggressiveness - Westerners learn from birth to be persistent and never give up, no matter what the odds. Breaking a few rules is often overlooked. Learning to use others to achieve one's goals is okay. People in other cultures may place more value on passiveness (Eastern and African cultures). They may develop negative feelings towards us because of our aggressiveness.

Money - In Western cultures, especially in America, a person's status is determined by his or her money and possessions. Possession of money can be an end in itself. It is not uncommon to have lawsuits and murders of family members or friends over small amounts of money. While money is also important to people in other cultures, it may not be of primary value to them.

Firstness - The need to be first in endeavors is very important to Western cultures, especially to Europeans and Americans. Westerners take pride in being the first to own something, the first to land on the moon, the first to invent something, etc. Firstness is closely tied to the value of individuality.

Impact of Western Values on Learning Experiences
What impact can the values of individuality, aggressiveness, money, and firstness have on the design of learning experiences? Here is one example.

Imagine that you have designed a business game in which teams compete to win the most money. One of the ways the teams can win money is to buy information from the facilitator. They must make decisions based on the information they acquire. Throughout the game, team members present their plan of action to the other teams. The facilitator and teams challenge each other's plans. The facilitator publicly gives each team his or her impressions about the viability of the plans. The best plan wins the most money.

This learning experience is very successful with your American audience, and now you have been asked by someone in Corporate to use the game to train the company's employees in China and Japan. Will this learning experience work in those cultures? It will take some redesign. Perhaps the goal of winning the most money will have to be changed. Maybe the element of competition will have to be eliminated. The facilitator's evaluative comments may have to be done differently.

More About Values
K.S. Sitaram and Roy Cogdell in their book, "Foundations of Intercultural Communication", (1976) provide a useful matrix in which they classify values by culture and the importance of each value to a particular culture. I encourage you to read this book, as well as others, for enlightenment on cultural values. In future articles, I will include more examples of values and how they may impact training.

In Part Three I will write about the effect of culture on learning styles and thinking patterns and what those findings may mean to instructional designers.

©1993, 1998, 2002, Dawn E. Zintel

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