5 Critical Elements To Design Culturally Sensitive eLearning

5 Critical Elements To Design Culturally Sensitive eLearning
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Summary: Training a global workforce requires training programs to be culturally sensitive. This article gives insights into 5 critical elements that are essential to design culturally sensitive eLearning.

How To Design Culturally Sensitive eLearning

Global workforces have become the norm. For training managers, this spells a huge challenge, as training a global, diverse workforce that encompasses people from different cultures is not an easy task. Irrespective of when and where learners access online training programs, it has become imperative for organizations to deliver consistent and relevant training.

But how can eLearning that’s developed for one set of learners in a specific country be equally effective for a different group of learners located in a different continent? While translating eLearning courses for a global workforce offers a plausible solution, there are times when that’s not enough. To find a solution, organizations can adopt one of these two approaches to design their eLearning courses.

  • Internationalization
  • Localization

With internationalization or globalization, eLearning courses are designed to be culturally neutral. Learners across the globe see identical content and assessments. With localization, the eLearning course is designed to be culturally relevant to learners. This means learners in different countries might see variations in language as well as content, images, and assessments.

As an organization that’s into designing eLearning courses for a multitude of clients with a global presence, we conducted a survey to find out what changes they would want to make to their existing courses to make them suitable for different cultural groups. Around 50% of respondents said they would change graphics and images, followed by the instructional strategy and instructions given in the course.

1. Graphics And Images

We are all aware that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, provided it’s the right picture. Graphics and images are essential elements of an eLearning course. Though images increase the aesthetic appeal of an eLearning course, their main purpose is to enhance the learning experience of learners.

If the existing eLearning course contains real-world backgrounds and relevant landscape, it may not be applicable when you are localizing the course for learners from a different country. Imagine using images of the streets and buildings of New York in an eLearning course for learners from Japan.

Similarly, certain icons used in an eLearning course may not be suitable for learners from a different culture. The ‘thumbs up’ sign, which is used as a positive gesture in western cultures, is to be avoided when you are designing eLearning courses for learners from the Middle East, Greece, and Italy as it is considered offensive.

2. Instructional Strategy

Just like a classroom training program, in an online training program all the learners are required to work toward achieving the learning goal. The difference is that in a classroom, the instructor can adapt the instructional strategy according to the audience. This is not possible in an eLearning course. And that’s why the choice of instructional strategy plays a huge role in the success of an eLearning course.

There are studies to prove that major cultural differences exist between Europe and Eastern Asia in eLearning application and design. For example, learners in China gravitate toward guided learning. So they would appreciate the use of a character or avatar to guide them in the eLearning course. On the other hand, learners in Germany would like the learning to be self-directed.

3. Course Structure

In Asia, learners rely on the instructor to set rules. In an eLearning course, learners seek specific instructions. According to the Eastern Asian culture:

  • The process of learning happens in steps.
  • Basic knowledge needs to be imparted to learners before they can develop critical thinking skills.

So, the eLearning course needs to follow a structured approach, starting from the basic to the more complex concepts.

However, according to Western culture, the process of learning is constructive and happens only when the learner is engaged in the learning. That could be a reason learners prefer a non-linear structure and free navigation through the course.

4. Assessment

An assessment is an important part of the eLearning course. Assessments are required not just to measure what learners have learned, but also how they have learned. You might consider using an assignment that requires learners to collaborate and come up with answers. While this works well for learners in the West, it may not go down very well with learners from Eastern Asian cultures.

Assessments in eLearning must not include questions that are relevant to a specific culture. Avoid the use of vocabulary learners are not familiar with. For example, an idiom that’s perfectly fine to use in the UK may not be understood by learners in other countries.

5. Feedback

The ability to include culturally-based learning differences and provide feedback accordingly is a skill that needs to be implemented in the eLearning course. Some cultures appreciate direct feedback, whereas others do not like to be given negative feedback. It is always better to start the feedback on a positive note and then move on to tell the learner why a particular response is incorrect.

Whether you are looking to build culturally neutral or culturally sensitive eLearning courses, partnering with an eLearning vendor who has worked with global clientele can help. There is no doubt that when you are aware of cultural differences among learners, it becomes easier to incorporate instructional decisions that can enhance the learning experience.