Can cultural awareness training be implemented online? In terms of logistics, of course it can. Many organizations are already doing it. The question is, can it be conducted online and deliver the results needed to help international professionals be more effective while working across cultures? In recent years, there has been an explosion of services in the online ESL industry to help professionals develop communication skills in English. English classes are often effective online but learning to communicate in English is not the same as learning to communicate in American culture. So, can international professionals develop cultural awareness online in the same way that they can develop verbal communication skills?
"Cultural awareness involves the ability to stand back from ourselves and become aware of our cultural values, beliefs and perceptions" - Culturosity
The Ability to "Stand" Back from Ourselves:
In order to really develop cultural awareness, we need to be able to look at our own culture from a different angle. This is not done by talking about how cultures are different. Cultural awareness training should involve experiential learning and simulations that make you step back and think. A great example is Barnga, a card game where all players start the game with the assumption that everyone will follow the same rules, only to find out at the end that each player had been assigned a different set of rules. This game is powerful because we notice the ways in which we assume that we are all living by the same set of values or customs when in fact we are not. We addressed the deeper levels of culture. Games like Barnga can be eye-opening if they are correctly implemented and debriefed. Why does this need to be done in person? We can see the reactions on other people's faces and really experience what it is like to be in a different culture. Can a game like this be as powerful online? Perhaps it can...
Online Cultural Awareness Training | Does it Work?
There are some interesting tools currently being developed and used online. Companies like Rw3 and Kwintessential offer online tools for expatriates who are preparing to move abroad, global managers, global teams and business travelers. Expatriate coaching companies have developed online tools and courses for the families and spouses of international professionals who have relocated.
Current technology provides an amazing opportunity to create tools that allow people to gain intercultural skills in a more convenient and cost-effective manner. However, I hope that in the process of creating these tools, we don't lose sight of what's really important in cultural awareness training and that is the powerful feeling of interacting across cultures with other human beings. We need to be aware of what is being lost without the face to face interaction that we get in an on-site training environment. So can online cultural awareness training work? It probably can, if we can find a way to bring out the underlying aspects of culture and the assumptions that we aren't aware of. It will be interesting to see how online tools evolve in the next few years as we continue to learn about how to help international professionals build the intercultural skills they need to be successful in their new work environment and life in a new culture.
What do you think? Can cultural awareness skills be gained online or should training be held face to face? What is lost and what is gained with the online format? Please let us know your point of view. Leave a comment below!