by Rebecca Sailor
The Rise of Cross-Cultural Communication
According to Monica Tracey and Gary Morrison, the need for developing effective cross-cultural training in the workplace is growing rapidly (Riser and Dempsey 184). Innovative tools such as email, internet, and Skype allow us to expand our business borders and work both nationally and internationally, and as our communities become more diverse, we regularly employ multiple-language speakers.
The need for effective instructional design is increased when the content of the training relates to worker safety, institutional compliance, public health, etc. If workers cannot access, utilize, and employ the information provided in such trainings, the consequences can be devastating to all involved.
Factors to Consider
Tracey and Morrison emphasize that two factors should be considered when designing cross-cultural instruction: societal cultural factors and learner cultural factors.
Societal cultural factors may include:
- generational and social heritage and/or traditions
- the ideas, values, and rules for learning;
- the way problems are solved;
- the interpretation of patterns, colors, and symbols;
- and the comprehension of ideas and behaviors (Riser and Dempsey 182)
Learner cultural factors may include:
- Learner/instructor role expectations
- Concept of time and use of authentic activities
- Learners communication styles
- Learners approach to interpersonal relationships
- Environment to which a learner transfers the learning (Riser and Dempsey 182)
Instructional designers should first research and consider each aspect of societal- and learner-cultural factors when designing training materials.
Tips for Effective Design
Instructional designers may use a variety of tools to deliver instruction; however, Richard Johnson-Sheehan, author of Technical Communication Today, suggests that those desiring to communicate well internationally and/or cross-culturally should spend plenty of time researching the target culture. Different expectations in content, organization, style, and design can greatly affect the usability of materials. Here are some questions that instructional designers might ask.
- Content: What types of information are acceptable? Must an instructor establish his/her reputation in order to establish trust before delivering training? Are persuasive techniques favored or disdained? Is the trainee allowed to bargain with content, or is s/he expected to accept it compliantly?
- Organization: What are the target culture’s expectations for document and presentation structure? Does this culture value “getting to the point,” or must contextual or interpersonal bonds be built first? Is repetition favored or disdained?
- Style: Does the target culture value plain or ornate language? What levels of formality are expected? Do trainees expect to collaborate in training sessions?
- Design: How do readers in the target culture visually scan a page or screen (Left to right? Right to left?) Does the target culture have strong associations with specific colors, symbols, etc? Will your visuals and graphics translate to the target culture? (Johnson Sheehan 28-37)
The Importance of Good Cross-cultural Design
It’s important that instructional designers work to meet the needs of all learners in order to make sure that both employers and employees are safe, that human performance is maximized, and that business goals are met.
More Resources That Could Help:
- SAGE Publications, including journals such as Cross-Cultural and Intercultural Communication, Global Media and Communication, and Journal of Business and Technical Communication. www.sagepub.com
- Intercultural Communication Institute. http://www.intercultural.org/
Johnson-Sheehan, Richard. Technical Communication Today. 4th Ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012.
Reiser, Robert, and John Dempsey. Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology. 3rd Edition. Boston: Pearson, 2012.