Overcoming cultural blind spots in global training

Posted: 11 Sep 2023

Over the last two years, as a result of the shift towards remote ways of working, there has been an explosion in the growth of learning and development. We are more accustomed than ever to delivering learning in virtual environments that can be rolled out anywhere in the world, but the cultural responsibilities that come with this are lagging behind.

This lack of cultural awareness is causing many professionals in the training industry to be unaware of their own cultural blind spots—meaning we’re not getting the most out of learners, or creating inclusive environments for them to thrive in.

In our recent webinar, Comtec’s Head of Partnerships, Emily Decker, sat down with Comtec’s Cultural Services Partner, Jessica Rathke, to explore how we can gain a better understanding of cultural nuance in order to improve training and learning.

Culture and the digital world

The conversation kicks off by establishing two key elements of cultural awareness in training environments. The first is the facilitation of training content and ensuring the delivery of your content lands with your desired audience. The second is around the content itself, and how we can tailor it to your target audience, depending on their cultural background.

“Diversity is increasingly important for facilitation and delivery of online learning.” Says Jessica, “The digital world actually amplifies cultural characteristics and differences so, for virtual training, it’s so important to have an understanding of it.”

In order to maximize learning potential, we need to be creating materials that speak to learners as individuals. It goes without saying that if learning content is packed full of unrecognisable sayings, jokes that don’t land, or examples that we cannot relate to, we run the risk of creating a barrier to learner engagement.

She continues, “The bottom line is: different cultures really do learn differently.”

Getting some perspective

Putting these ideas into practice, Jessica shows us the difference in cultural opinions on the same subject matter. In this instance, it’s the USA. “From the cultural perspective of Japan, they think Americans are relaxed, friendly, spontaneous, emotional and impulsive, whereas Mexicans think Americans are always in a rush, serious, restrained, methodical and composed.”

Here we gain some perspective on just how differently two cultures can view the same thing. They are essentially opposite opinions, of which neither one is factually incorrect. It simply relates back to how the culture of the USA differs from their own.

In a learning environment, having an awareness of the nuances and habits of different cultures can help you to avoid any significantly off-base content. As Jessica puts it, “We can’t be all things to all people, but we can tweak things to make online learning much more relevant to different cultures.”

How the Hofstede model can help

But how can we possibly learn enough detail from each individual culture around the world? It’s not as tricky as you might think, thanks to the Hofstede Model.

The Hofstede Model works by identifying six social dilemmas that all societies face, and how different countries resolve these social dilemmas. This, in turn, gives us a language to understand cultural differences.

These six dilemmas are:

  • How do we deal with power inequality in society?
  • How do we relate to the group?
  • What drives our motivation?
  • How do we relate to uncertainty?
  • What is our relationship to time?
  • How do we relate to pleasure?

How we relate to these values affects how we behave on every level, big or small—from what religion we have to how we run a work meeting. By using this model, we can essentially read the value system of multiple cultures and tailor our learning material accordingly.

How to spot blind spots early on

In order to foster learning environments that do not isolate certain cultures, thankfully, you don’t have to be some kind of cultural mastermind. At the end of the day, general awareness can be enough to present, create and roll-out your learning content in a far more inclusive way.

As Emily puts it, “Having that awareness that the way that we do things in one culture isn’t necessarily the way we do things in another goes a really long way.” Once we know this, we can neutralise or adapt content so that it doesn’t lean too heavily towards one cultural norm.

What we do need to ensure is that we are making these choices and having these conversations early on in the process. You will get better results from learners if your content is created with cultural diversity in mind, rather than trying to make it diverse retrospectively. You’ll find this not only saves you a ton of time, but also results in content that truly speaks to the individual. It’s win-win.

We love sharing our knowledge and expertise on this, and many other language, culture, translation, and localisation-related subjects. Please do get in touch, our friendly team is always very happy to help.

Call us on +44 (0) 1926 335 681 or email info@comtectranslations.com.