One of the most important considerations when designing eLearning content for global audiences is determining how the content will resonate with the cultures of the audiences you’re targeting. You can create the greatest content, but if it doesn’t take culture into account, both in the way it’s delivered and the content itself, it won’t be successful.
As a translation company providing comprehensive localization and translation services for eLearning and training courses, we know that if a customer comes to us, they understand that we’ll prepare their eLearning courses for distribution in other cultures. However, we highly encourage our customers to also take advantage of our cultural auditing service, where we provide recommended modifications based on the targeted languages. This service goes beyond translation and image localization, it looks at how the eLearning content is delivered and other cultural considerations. Let’s take a look at how culture comes into play with learning styles and eLearning materials.
Cultural Dimensions: A Way to Compare and Contrast Across Cultures
Research studies, such as those conducted by Geert Hofstede, have led to the creation of national cultural dimensions. These cultural dimensions are categories of cultural characteristics we can use to compare differences, at a national level, across cultural groups.
Hofstede identified six categories of cultural differences:
- Power Distance: the strength of societal social hierarchy.
- Long-Term Orientation: when you are focused on the future.
- Uncertainty Avoidance: how cultures differ on the amount of tolerance they have of unpredictability.
- Masculinity/Femininity: task-orientation versus person-orientation.
- Individualism/Collectivism: emphasizes the moral worth of the individual or the group.
His theory is that these dimensions affect our perceptions of other cultures and our willingness to accept their differences. Below, we will address the cultural dimensions that could have an impact on eLearning content.
Individualism vs. Collectivism
Hofstede’s dimension of individualism vs collectivism describes the degree to which members of a culture focus on themselves (I, me) or on groups (we, us). 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 50 countries. What this indicates is that Americans perceive cultural values to be the same as others and so we can be blind to cultural differences. Thus, we inherently tend to negate the value of addressing the cultural needs of other groups.
This concept can come into play when our customers design eLearning courses, as they may not take cultural differences into account. We try to put our customers “in the shoes” of their targeted learners to help them understand and accept our recommendations on cultural adaptations for eLearning. This often helps them to appreciate the value of our recommended changes, and subsequently, increase their willingness to invest in those changes.
Power distance refers to how members of a culture expect or accept power divisions. In the United States, we have a low power distance index (PDI), which means that we’re more accepting of the differences in power.
This concept manifests itself in the educational environment. For example, American students are not afraid to challenge instructors, question what they say or approach them as individuals. However, in high PDI countries, such as in many Asian countries, students would not dream of approaching their instructors, let alone challenging them. Instructors are the experts and students are recipients of their knowledge.
In the United States, we tend to expect students to build their knowledge (i.e., the theory of constructivism), and we use techniques, such as group activities, to facilitate this process. In educational events, students from high PDI countries do not accept these activities as useful or valid, they expect the expert to teach them, not to learn from peers or their work.
Culture and Time
When we recommend to our customers that they may need to modify their eLearning 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.
These recommended modifications take time by reworking the content. Another American cultural characteristic is reflected in our attitude towards time: time is money. It can be wasted. 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 with their customers’ satisfaction and acceptance.
When it comes to eLearning events, customers benefit from taking a marketing approach to their online courses by asking: what can we do to ensure quick and eager adaptation of our courses by our targeted learners/customers? We have seen the impacts that making cultural adjustments can have on training materials. Our cultural auditing service provides recommended modifications based on the languages being targeted.
In many cases, this means being willing to:
- Submit courses for cultural auditing.
- Adopt recommended modifications that go deeper than translation and image localization.
Our eLearning localization team will also help you translate your eLearning courses and presentations in all your targeted languages and locales.