Online cross culture coaching: not a silver bullet
As a lead in Learning & Development, you feel that the availability of an online cross culture module is the perfect answer to remote working teams. After all, look at the advantages.
- One module serves so many
- Each module can be taken at an employee’s convenience
- The pace of learning can be determined by the learner himself
What more could anyone want? And yet, online cross culture coaching misses out on 3 important aspects.
1. Online cross culture loses out on Attention
There’s a big thing missing in online cross culture courses. It’s audience attention. In the first place, most online courses (even live webinars sometimes) do not focus on learner attention spans, which are getting shorter by the minute. It is usually a one-way discourse that even if the person manages to ‘hear’ may not result in ‘listening’. At the end of the day, you never know what your intended target audience has gained from the training. Yes, you may have breaks with questions, but that isn’t foolproof. Also does that measure efficacy of the training?
2. Online cross culture presentations are not designed for interaction
Most online cross culture presentations are, at best, designed to just give information. Manu of these are ,sadly, ‘death by ppt‘. What they need is constant interaction: the freedom to ask questions when the question comes up. In fact, the group learning of an interactive workshop has more value than the lone candidate staring numbly into the screen without any way to resolve queries that may crop up during the one-way information overload process.
3. Online cross culture are focused on information
Let’s move to content. While online cross culture courses are made with care, there is another inherent problem – they are playing to the gallery. The audience is everybody and therefore the content is very generic. Having ensured that the content is consumable by the lowest common denominators, most online cross culture presentations tread the straight and narrow path of knowledge with no special insights or no personalised content specific to the audience or relevant to their roles. For instance, most of these presentations will tell you what the social etiquettes of the other culture are but will not be able to tell you any specific reason or the underlying belief for a behaviour. A simple example would be some of our Indian customs which seem meaningless to an outsider (and even to some of us) but have deep-seated underlying and even scientific reasons.
Does that mean that online cross culture modules don’t work at all?
No. The presence of a global economy and remote geographies is built into cross culture. That is, in the final analysis, why we need this deeper understanding. Online modules do work when we need to know more about a country, their chief festivals, the way they dress, the food they eat, religions followed as well as predominant social customs – even dress codes. These are equally important. But do your candidates need a module for that? If yes, that’s a simple mailable pdf.
What an effective cross culture module conveys
To have any degree of impact an effective cross culture module has to come, not from a space of information giving, but the offering of a context. One of the first thing we communicate to our audience when we start is the meaning of the traditional Indian greeting Namaste. And I am not talking of the literal meaning. I am talking of the deep-seated meaning of Namaste which represents an underlying respect for every human being we cross paths with – young or old, rich or poor, Indian or foreign. More than that, is the fact that this simple word or greeting actually influences a lot of our other behaviour. It often comes as a surprise even to my fellow Indian in the audience how entrenched this word is in the Indian bloodstream and our behaviour patterns. Is that something I can convey online? Is a well-designed powerpoint on a remote console the solution? I don’t think so.
Cross culture is about human nature
Effective cross culture modules, the ones that display a depth of understanding of cultures, need that face to face interaction sometimes.
They need that human intervention where a behaviour pattern can be identified, pointed out and acknowledged.
They also need a ready answer to the uncomfortable, and sometimes politically incorrect, questions that participants want to ask. Questions that they do not want to put in writing.
Eventually cross culture is about human nature. It’s about human interaction and building bridges across borders. Isn’t it a bit too ambitious to task an online module to do that with any degree of success?
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