How can you create a good e-learning course for your international workforce? What does it take to ensure the online course is well-received by your learners spread across the globe? Well, you need to focus on a vital aspect – making the online course culture-neutral.
Why is it important to develop a culture-neutral e-learning course?
Various studies show that the cultural background of a person affects the way he learns. Geert Hofstede, a noted Dutch social psychologist, identified four cultural aspects viz. centralization of authority and formal hierarchies in the society, response to uncertainty by people, the degree to which people prefer to act as individuals as opposed to being in groups, and the importance accorded to achievement and materialism by the members of the society have a major impact on learning.
Based on these findings, Mercado et al made certain recommendations to create online courses to suit learners from different cultures. They advocate Instructional Designers (IDs) to focus on four key aspects when designing e-learning courses for global audiences. Let us see what they are.
1. Formulation of the right instructional strategy
How you present the information to the learner and enable him to go through the course is important. Also, you need to focus on the design of assessments and how you provide feedback to the learner.
When you examine instructional design at strategic level, you notice different extremes of the continuum. On one hand, you see the symmetry and orderly layout of the design as opposed to an open and intuitive one. For example, learners hailing from the Middle East and south-east Asia prefer courses with a rigid, orderly, and structured design. On the other hand, people from the West would like e-learning courses to be more open and intuitively structured. You need to strike a balance between the two extremes to develop a good online course for international learners. You also need to strike a fine balance between the following:
- Simple, practical design vs. high aesthetical value
- Precision in the information delivered and instructions provided, comprehensive guidance with rigid timelines vs. a more open, informal communication highlighting the role of the learner
- Flexible, unstructured learning situations and case studies vs. highly structured, straightforward knowledge transfer
- Evaluation of individual performance vs. group performance
- Assertive and definitive feedback vs. diplomatic, well-reasoned feedback
2. Language used in the course
To develop the content of an e-learning course for global learners, it is necessary to use international English, devoid of idioms, colloquial expressions, and references to sports; Sports are highly culture-specific. For instance, cricket is very popular in India, while baseball is played widely in the USA. So, it is better not to include references to sports in your online course. You also need to be careful in the use of humor. What is considered funny in one culture may be perceived very offensive in another.
3. Use of graphics
It’s better to avoid photographs of people as they convey a lot about their cultural backgrounds – the way they are dressed, whether their head is covered, and so on. Instead, you need to use culture-agnostic humanoid images such as the one shown below.
But if you have to use photographs, I suggest you use photos of people belonging to different ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages. You need to avoid political and religious symbols because these could create problems in the localization of the course. So, you need to be careful in the use of visuals when you develop an e-learning course for global learners.
4. Choice of the narrator
The choice of the right narrator is a key element in the development of an online course for an international workforce. It is very important to choose the right person to narrate your online course. Most learners from West Asia and the Indian subcontinent prefer narrators whose voice is firm and authoritative. But, learners in Europe and North America would like a friendly and informal voice. It’s advisable to go in for a narrator who sounds professional.
It is important to make your e-learning course culture-neutral to impart effective online training to your global staff. You need to formulate an effective instructional strategy that caters to the preferences of learners belonging to various cultural backgrounds. You also need to use international English in your online course and see the narrator of the course sounds professional. It’s advisable to use humanoid images in your e-learning courses.
How do you make online courses for your international workforce? We’d love to know.
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