I’ve been in the adult learning space for many years now. While I won’t say exactly how long (a lady never reveals her age) I can tell you that Juicy Couture track suits were ALL the rage in my early learning and development days. Like many people in my industry, I did not set out for a career in adult education. My first ‘real job’ was at one of the largest publicly traded insurance companies in the nation. As I worked my way up through the ranks I went from a front-line salesperson, to sales leader, and finally sales educator. Fast forward some years, I’m now the Learning and Development Consultant for a global sports data and technology company. Throughout the course of my career I have been fortunate to receive a massive amount of training and education on adult learning principles, facilitation and presentation skills, and instructional design, all of which I apply when building training courses. The one (and most significant) piece that was missing? Global learning styles.
We are in an age of globalization. With the advent of the internet, people suddenly found themselves in an infinitely large community where they could interact with others around the world in a matter of seconds. As we embraced smart phones, this global community only grew. Throw the influence of social media into the mix and you end up with a unique, ever-changing culture of world wise individuals seeking to connect through shared likes and dislikes. While we are in the best position we’ve historically seen for engaging with geographically dispersed groups, these conveniences of technology have shown some downside. Because our communication methods have largely gone digital, attention spans continue to shrink. We now get our news and interactions by scrolling away the hours, liking and sharing content and broadcasting our thoughts in 140 characters or less. A recent study conducted by Microsoft has shown that on average, our attention span is less than that of a goldfish (Time, 2015).
All that considered, there are some things that we in the education world can do when designing learning programs for globally diverse work groups. By accounting for different learning styles, mindsets and values we can be sure to build programs that do the most good for the most people. How is that accomplished? Check out these 3 easy tips for fostering a global learning environment:
1. Uncover the learning ‘mindset’ of your organization. There are some common mindsets that you may encounter as you inventory your organization’s learning preferences. Dr. Howard Perlmutter, a leading authority on globalization, identified three specific mindsets that pervade in business.
Ethnocentric mindsets maintain that headquarters are in control of all organizational learning – information is passed from there to the subsidiaries around the world, with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Polycentric mindsets rely on the local subsidiaries themselves as experts on their communities and local marketplace, allowing them to control education as they see fit for their group.
Geocentric mindsets involve a collaboration between headquarters and subsidiaries, identifying universal principles as well as local standards to maximize learning.
Determining which of these prevail in your organization will help define the path you should take when building learning content – whether you’re designing for one business unit or the organization as a whole.
2. Understand the differences between American values and those of other cultures. It is a commonly held belief in America that individuals have a fair amount of control and influence over their future. Ever heard someone say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”? What were they referring to when making that statement? Chances are it had something to do with hard work and determination leading to a desired outcome. In many other cultures, man’s will comes second to God’s plan. “Life follows a preordained course, and human action is determined by the will of God or nature,” (Moran et. al, 2014, p. 118). This is just one example of how different values, which are influenced by culture, affect how individuals view their situations and surroundings. Recognizing and identifying differing values will be helpful when considering how to approach learning.
3. Account for differences in individual learning processes. While this bullet point focuses on individual learning processes, there is likely some cultural influence in play here as well. Americans are notorious for embracing and engaging in passionate debates. We tend to gravitate toward learning environments where we have the ability to work in groups, experiment with new concepts and learn collectively. In Japan however, there is a tendency towards more individualized learning. A preference is shown for very detailed instruction, followed by solitary work and time for reflection. When designing training for a global work group it may be worth the time required to create variations of the content and its delivery – one version that follows a more facilitative, group learning path and another that emphasizes heavy instruction and individual tasks to reinforce learned concepts.
Of course, there are additional considerations that go into the development and delivery of learning programs, especially for those courses that are applicable across the organization. Starting with these basics – mindsets, values and learning processes – will ultimately result in a more valuable experience for all that are impacted.
Got more tips for designing global learning programs (or a desire to reminisce over those stylish Juicy Couture pantsuits)? Feel free to share in the comments below!
McSpadden, K. (2015, May 14). Science: You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish. Retrieved from http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/
Moran, R. T., Abramson, N. R., & Moran, S. V. (2014). Managing cultural differences. London: Routledge.