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Designing Training for Multicultural Learners
Part Six: Developing Instructional Materials

by: Dawn Zintel

In Part Five, I correlated Kolb's Learning Style types to appropriate learning methodologies and situations. For each type of learner I identified how they learn best, the type of instructor they preferred, and the instructional methods that may cause them problems. In this article, the focus will be on developing instructional materials for people of different cultures. I will assume that you have already analyzed the target audience and that you have a good understanding of the learners' country, cultural variables, their company and working conditions. I will also assume that you are at the stage of writing the instructional materials for a class. Some of the guidelines will also apply to the development of computer-based training, multimedia, video and audio-based learning.

Getting Ready to Learn
When we develop the introductory portion of a training class, there are a number of factors we need to think differently about if our instruction is for multicultural learners. Lennie Copeland and Lewis Griggs identified some of these factors in their book, "Going International: How to Make Friends and Deal Effectively in the Global Marketplace."

Introduction of Instructor:
Take time to think through how formal or informal the introduction of the instructor should be. The degree of formality should be determined by the local cultural norms. In most countries, teachers are treated with the greatest respect. Therefore, it is important to allow time for the instructor, at the beginning of a training program, to demonstrate competence in his or her discipline in order to establish credibility.

Introductions of Learners:
How much time you spend on learner introductions will be determined by cultural norms. Is it important in a specific culture to develop a personal relationship first before attending to business? If that is the case, then asking the students to briefly state their name, title, and company would be considered rushed and inappropriate. In contrast, in more hierarchical cultures, if you spend a lot of time developing personal information, the process may seem too personal and a waste of time.

Statement of Learning Objectives:
As instructional designers, we are taught to be specific about the outcomes of the learning experience. Performance-based objectives are revered. Sometimes we are training people to solve problems and to initiate or manage change. The learning objectives we write state very clearly what we want the learners to do when the training is over. But what happens if you are teaching learners whose beliefs are based on the concept of "God willing"? In some countries, learners do not have any control over their world including the organization in which they work. In those situations, the learners may be shocked by our learning objectives.

The Agenda:
When planning the agenda, take into consideration how business and education is conducted in a specific country. If the cultural pattern is to take a three to four hour lunch during the midday heat, it would be difficult for the learners to adjust to a one hour lunch. Another factor to consider when developing the schedule is how much time to allot for the training. In America, often the length of the course is more important than what is being taught. No matter how intensive the course, it is more important that we be through it in one day. In other cultures, the attitude may be, if there is so much to learn, take the time needed and do not hurry through the material.

Instructing the Learners
Culture has a definite influence on how learners acquire knowledge and/or skills. For example, some cultures learn by rote memorization. In other cultures, they may learn by passive observation of demonstrations. Or they may learn from oral explanations as opposed to written instructions. Once people have learned to learn in a certain way, it is very difficult for them to learn in other ways. Therefore, it is important that the instructional designer research the country and the predominant learning style in order to design lessons that will support the learning process. Keep in mind that when people are learning in a second or third language, it is extremely stressful and tiring. Here are a few general guidelines that will help people who must learn in a language that is not their first language.

  • Arrange topics in a logical order.
  • Address only one topic at a time.
  • Reiterate concepts several ways.
  • Check for understanding frequently.
  • Include frequent reviews and summaries.
  • Use simple vocabulary and sentence structure.
  • Keep the language consistent throughout.
  • Use short sentences.
  • Be concise.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Avoid the use of vague modifiers such as barely, almost, approximately, just about.
  • Phrase statements positively. Note that double negatives are very confusing.
  • Avoid idioms, jargon, slang, and jokes because they may be meaningless to people in other cultures.
  • If acronyms are used, explain their meaning.
  • Provide glossaries of terms and acronyms.
  • Use analogies, metaphors, examples and case studies that are culturally-based.
Visual Elements:
  • Use visuals liberally.
  • Ensure that visuals and drawings are understandable within the cultural context.
  • Consider the conventions countries use in communicating ideas visually.
  • Make sure the pacing, structure and style of computer-based training and media such as videos accommodate the multicultural learner.

In Part Seven, I will provide more guidelines on developing instruction for multicultural learners, and how to evaluate the multicultural learning experience. In the meantime, I encourage you to read the chapter titled "Language Diversity" in Sondra Thiederman's book, "Bridging Cultural Barriers for Corporate Success." Ms. Thiederman has included excellent examples of problems and solutions when communicating in multicultural and multilingual situations.

©1993, 1998, 2002, Dawn E. Zintel

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