How cultural backgrounds impact L&D and elearning experiences

Posted: 11 Sep 2023

Does our cultural background impact how we learn, what we engage with and our training preferences? Research says yes. Find out more here. 

We all learn in different ways. Some of us will feel more at home learning in group dynamics, whereas others prefer a quiet space to think. As individuals, we have different preferences and practices—but how far does culture play a part in this?

Research has shown that our cultural backgrounds affect our learning preferences. This spans from how we process information to how we relate to others within a training environment. By recognising these nuances, training can be adapted so that multicultural learners get the best outcomes.

Below, we’ll take a look at the impact of culture on learning, and how having a better awareness of culture-dependent learning tendencies can boost learner engagement and satisfaction.

How preferred learning styles vary across cultures

In its simplest form, a learning style is an individual, natural and preferred way a person consumes and treats information. If we take cultural tendencies into account when assessing learning styles, we can create environments that suit problem-solving from country to country, and culture to culture.

So, how do we determine these preferences? Speaking to your team is a great start. There are also multiple studies to look at. For example, in America, there is a disparity between Americans of Mexican descent and Caucasian Americans.

Mexican Americans assign particular value to personal relationships and are more comfortable with cognitive generalities. These traits indicate a preference for closer relationships with teachers and an appreciation for broader concepts as opposed to granular facts and statistics. In contrast, many Caucasian Americans observed valued independence, analytic thinking, objectivity and accuracy. In a learning environment, this translates to grading, tests and competition.

Cultural differences can also be seen in how learners prefer material to be presented. One study of learning styles found that Korean, Chinese and Filipino learners had a stronger preference for visual styles, whereas Anglo were the least visual culture when it comes to learning. 

For global organisations with multicultural teams, it’s important to explore and understand cultural learning traits so that you can develop the best L&D programmes possible.

The impact of culture on virtual learning

Whether live training over video call or remote elearning programmes, virtual learning presents extra challenges when training people from different cultures.

In a virtual environment, many things pose barriers to successful training. For instance, a learner can’t necessarily rely on non-verbal signals or social cues that might better contextualise a conversation taking place in person. For cultures where social interactivity is an important part of the learning process, this can be problematic. Similarly, virtual environments do not always offer the same basic tools as in-person collaboration. An absence of whiteboards and imagery can limit those who prefer to learn via visual aids.

There’s also the overarching issue of cultural disparity and subsequent lack of confidence when training and learning virtually. Without face-to-face human interaction, people from a breadth of cultures can find themselves less likely to offer opinions or ask questions. Virtual learning can be an intimidating space, where some learners may be used to the concept of independent learning, others may see the educator as an authority figure. For the latter, having the freedom to work as an individual without discipline or direction, can result in a lack of motivation and focus.

How can learning and development (L&D) teams adapt programmes to be more effective across cultures?

The more attention we pay to the learning preferences of different cultures, the more we can analyse and implement lasting changes to L&D programmes to ensure they best meet the needs of a multicultural learning environment.

Some practical ways to achieve this are:

  • Using a variety of learning methods—be they visual, activities-based, fact-based or through peer discussion. This is good practice for any learning programme, but for those looking to increase cultural diversity, it’s a must.
  • Fully localising learning programmes. Rather than simply translating learning programmes into other languages, consider how they might be fully localised. A localised programme will not only address language and cultural references, but will adapt the material to best suit the culture in which it is being used.
  • Get feedback from local teams or pilots. Who better to recognise potential challenges and benefits across a global group than your own multicultural teams? They are best placed to advise you on how effective a programme will be in their region and any adaptations that could be made.

At its core, learning is most effective when it is relevant and engaging. This is far easier to achieve if the content is localised for the audience, no matter where they are in the world. To find out more about effectively implementing a localised L&D programme, take a look at our guide below.

If you need help translating or localising your L&D programmes, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.