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Designing Training for Multicultural Learners
Part Seven: Practice Activities and Evaluating Learning

by: Dawn Zintel

In Part Six, I began to describe some techniques to use when developing training programs for multicultural learners. Now I will provide some guidelines for learning activities and practice. I will also give you tips for evaluating learning with multicultural learners.

Developing Learning Activities
When you begin to develop learning activities, keep in mind that different cultures have preferred learning styles that may not include the use of application or practice exercises. For example, if the normal educational process consists of teacher-centered formal presentations and lectures, students may not know how to respond to learning activities such as case studies, role plays or other group exercises. Working in groups may be a problem depending on cultural patterns and expectations. Problems can develop when Americans, who tend to be open and frank about things, provide learners feedback in the classroom environment. The following guidelines may assist you when developing learning activities.

Preparation for Learning Activities:
  • Design lessons so that they begin in the traditional manner. Then, when learners are more comfortable, add learner-centered activities gradually.
  • Design flexible activities that allow learners the option of not participating (for example: role play or discussion).
  • To increase their comfort level with role plays, build in distribution of the materials ahead of time so that learners can become familiar with the content and practice, if they wish.
Working in Groups:
  • When creating groups, avoid random assignment of people to a group. Think about gender, age, status, religious and ethnicity implications.
  • Avoid mixing people from cultures who have a history of antipathy.
Practicing Skills/Behaviors:
  • Practice frequently so that problems can be detected sooner.
  • Practice small chunks, so that learners can build their skills incrementally without becoming overtired.
  • If the learners can explain better in writing than verbally, design written exercises instead of demonstrations or presentations.
  • If the students are learning in a second language, check comprehension frequently through observation and written exercises.
Giving Feedback:
  • Assess whether people in a culture value hiding one's feelings and thoughts before including intrusive questions in your lessons.
  • Avoid debriefing sessions in which negative feedback to an individual in front of a group may cause the learner to lose "face".
  • Allow time for the trainer to follow up with some learners individually.
  • Consider using written feedback instead of verbal feedback.

Evaluation in the Multicultural Context
In our training culture in North America, we are encouraged to evaluate the learning experience in different ways. For example, we may ask learners to react to the training experience. In essence, we are doing a customer satisfaction survey. We may also test the learners to determine if they acquired new knowledge and skills. Just as we must consider the learners' culture when designing instruction, we must also consider culture when planning our evaluation strategies. Here are a few tips for success when evaluating the multicultural learning experience.

Using Reaction Questionnaires
No matter whether we are doing formative or summative evaluation, cultural implications need to be considered when we are asking people to react to the course design, the trainer, the content or the environment. Asking for suggestions for revisions or for improvement of the course can bring unexpected results. While learners in the U.S. think nothing of responding to these questions, people from other cultures may be very uncomfortable with this evaluation process. To ask learners to criticize the course or the trainer in cultures where the trainer is the authority and expert would elicit only positive comments. The students would not consider making statements that would imply a lack of confidence in the trainer, or would cause the trainer to lose "face". One way to handle this problem is to ask for suggestions for improving what is going well. This focus on the positive will provide more useful insights.

Another problem may result when using "what is good/what is bad" open-ended questions. Some cultures do not divide things into good or bad. They do not learn the concept of something being bad. Therefore, they would not understand what you are asking. The result would be silence or lack of feedback on "what is bad".

Using Likert Scales
A few months ago, one of my trainers called and asked me why students from some Asian countries consistently never gave her ratings of more than 5 or 6 on a 10 point scale. At the time I did not know the answer. But I have since learned that cultures do not deal in superlatives the way that Americans do. For example, if you are part of a culture in which the only entity who can be perfect is the Emperor or a deity, it is unlikely that a trainer will ever be given a rating of 10 on a 10 point scale. Wilson Learning, in its evaluation studies, decided that a rating of 4 in Japan and a rating of 10 in Indonesia equaled a rating of 7 in the U.S.

Testing Knowledge
If you are going to use oral quizzes to test learning, first consider the issues of "face" and privacy for learners and their cultures. Perhaps self-graded quizzes would be a better alternative. On the other hand, written tests may not be appropriate in cultures where group cooperation is the norm. Group oral tests may be more appropriate for these learners.

Avoid the use of multiple choice questions when learners are non-native speakers. Unfortunately, multiple choice tests tend to rely on the use of vague modifiers such as approximately, almost, usually, several. The test takers must make fine discriminations between the possible answers. As a result, what you end up testing is the learner's command of the subtleties of the English language, not knowledge of the subject.

Two techniques that will help you with reaction questionnaires and written test are the use of redundancy and context. In each questionnaire or test, include at least two questions with different wording that are measuring the same thing. This may help with the translation problems. Provide a context for difficult concepts and terms when you testing for comprehension. Words are easier to understand if they are in a context for the learner.

Evaluating Competency
The most important thing to remember with competency tests is that you can not use the database of norms or performance criteria that you developed for performers in the U.S. A successful salesperson in Brazil may have a completely different set of skills than a successful salesperson the U.S. So, American performance criteria can not be directly applied to other cultures without first developing a culturally reliable database of norms.

I will leave the subjects of learning activities and evaluation now with one caution, "Never assume that what works here in the U.S. will work with people from other cultures. Investigate, investigate, investigate!" In Part Eight, I will provide some ideas for the training of trainers to deliver instruction in other countries.

©1993, 1998, 2002, Dawn E. Zintel

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