In our previous blogs, we talked about the cultural limitations in various elearning platforms and what we could do to overcome them. Today, we would like to talk to you about an unanticipated cultural challenge – customers! Let us explain.
It could happen to you
When the U.S. Peace Corps recruits volunteers for its overseas posts in Africa, it does everything it can to ensure a successful match between the volunteer and the site. To this end, the organization usually requires volunteers to undergo pre-service stateside training, in-country training, or both. In particular, the organization wants to confirm that potential volunteers understand – and can adapt to – significantly different cultural environments. Thus, pre-service training includes extensive cross-cultural training on the host country’s people, economics, sociology, and so forth. However, culture shock still happens. In this particular case, a married couple arrived in the Central African Republic with their peers, ready to begin in-country training. However, as they began to disembark from the plane on the tarmac in Bangui, this particular couple halted abruptly, looked at each other, and tried to return to the plane! Despite extensive preparation, they had not fully comprehended the realization of how different life was going to be for the next two years. It was only when they were ‘at the door’ of their new adventure did reality strike.
This situation is similar to what happens with customers who have had limited cultural experience seek localization services. If a customer comes to us for services, it’s obvious they understand that translation and localization will prepare their elearning courses for dissemination in other cultures. However, when they see the recommendations on how to adapt their courses for these other markets, they often try to ‘get back onto the plane.’In other words, they often reject some of the best recommendations. Why does this happen? What are the consequences?
Seminal research studies, such as those conducted by Hofstede, Trompenaars & Hampden Turner, and Hall,* have led to the creation of ‘national cultural dimensions.’ These cultural dimensions are categories of cultural characteristics we can use to compare and contrast differences, at a national level, across cultural groups. For simplicity, we’ll talk about Hofstede’s dimensions, in the context of how these dimensions affect our perceptions of other cultures and our willingness to accept their differences.
Cultural Dimensions and Our Perceptions
Hofstede’s dimension of individualism describes the degree to which members of a culture focus on themselves (I, me) or on groups (we, us) such as families or in-groups. In his research, he assigned each country an index score on different dimensions, to help us understand how similar or different we are to other cultures. On the dimension of individualism, the United States scored the highest among about 50 countries. What this indicates is that we Americans tend to be blind to cultural differences because we perceive our own cultural values to be the same as others. Thus, we inherently tend to negate the value of addressing the cultural needs of other groups. However, anyone with experience living and working in another culture tends to overcome this blindness. For the purpose of accepting our recommendations on cultural adaptations for elearning, we try to put our customers ‘in the shoes’ of their targeted learners. This often helps them to appreciate the value of our recommended changes and subsequently, increases their willingness to invest in those changes. We want our clients to appreciate that the ‘my way or the highway’ approach is detrimental to success.
Cultural Dimensions and Learning Environments
Let’s use the example of power distance, another cultural dimension described by Hofstede. Power distance alludes to how members of a culture expect or accept power divisions. In the U.S., we have a low power distance index (PDI), which manifests itself in the educational environment. For example, American students are not afraid to challenge instructors, question what they say, or to approach them as individuals. However, in high power distance countries, such as many of the Asian ones, students would not dream of approaching their instructors, let alone challenge them. Instructors are the experts and students are recipients of their knowledge. In contrast, in the U.S., we tend to expect students to build their knowledge (i.e., the theory of constructivism) and subsequently, we use techniques such as group activities to facilitate this process. In educational events, students from low PDI countries do not accept these activities as useful or valid; they expect their expert to teach them, not to learn from peers or from their own work. Thus, when we recommend to our customers that they may need to modify their course learning activities, we provide explanations as to why this is important and how to do it. We offer key insights into how to create culturally accessible elearning. Customers should be prepared, when they submit courses for a cultural audit, to make post-analysis modifications.
Culture and Time
However, the aforementioned modifications take time. They require rework. Another American cultural characteristic is reflected in our attitude towards time: Time is money. It can be wasted. Thus, we are often in a hurry to complete our tasks and this is reflected in customers’ drive to move elearning courses into production as fast as possible. However, we try to illustrate that using a bit more time to make elearning courses more culturally appropriate pays for the time – later!
In previous blogs, we explained the benefits of using Global English as a foundation for translation. We also recommended modifying images, for example, to reflect the targeted learners’ context more accurately. Customers tend to accept these recommendations without hesitation. However, when it comes to learning events, customers benefit from taking a marketing approach to their online courses: What can we do to ensure quick and eager adaptation of our courses by our targeted learners – our customers? In many cases, this means being willing
(1) to submit courses for cultural auditing and
(2) to adopt recommended modifications that go deeper than translation and image localization.
eLearning Localization and Translation Services
GPI, a premiere translation company, provides comprehensive localization and translation services for eLearning and training courses. Our elearning localization team will help you translate your elearning courses and presentations in all languages.