E-Learning and Cultural Diversity

e-learning and diversity

Recently, I’ve indulged in yet another valuable webinar presented by AFI Expertise, a partner whose business in digital transformation encompasses 20 years of expertise in on and offline training. So they know what they’re talking about when they comment on the advantages of online training – particularly when delivering to a culturally diverse audience. Before I share takeaways, let’s clarify the distinction between synchronous and asynchronous learning.

Synchronous And Asynchronous Learning

Synchronous learning entails a trainer dispensing the training live online, where participants engage at the same time. Asynchronous learning implies the content is made available, and the onus of discipline is on the learner – so no live instructor. The participant can learn at their own pace, on their own time, as opposed to on a particular schedule. Each yields its share of pros and cons, but in either case, significant advantages apply in e-learning (or online learning or distance learning) including:

  • Time optimization – Whether it’s live or not, we all save on travel time to and from the training location. For asynchronous, one can organize the learning episodes at their leisure and considering their schedule and availability.
  • Adapted rhythm – This applies most to asynchronous, where one can proceed at their own rhythm.
  • Customized environment – In either case, one can set up its own learning environment, ensuring a tailored learning experience.
  • Reduced travel costs – Of course, no travel removes an attractive perk but does save significant costs.
  • Possibility of replay – Learning platforms now make it easy to record the learning sessions, giving the learner ample reference to review lessons at will.
  • More participants – As classroom size is factored out, the number of participants no longer has to be limited to a certain amount
  • Participants in different locations – And that, my dear friends, is the major perk in my humble opinion. Participants can come from all over the world. This is especially rich in the live classroom model, mainly when participants interact with the trainer, which brings us to a whole other challenge: the multicultural classroom.

Challenges of the Multicultural Online Classroom

E-learning in a multicultural context can be one of the richest learning experiences for both the trainer and the participants. The opportunity to share different perspectives significantly enhances the takeaway. This rapidly became evident when I delivered a pioneering Communications And Cultural Intelligence course to a group of international students.

My cohort included students from China, Finland, Italy, Columbia, the US, India and Canada. Their engagement was phenomenal in terms of diverse perspectives. I was teaching cultural values to an audience who was experimenting with the principles “in real-time”.

For example, when we discussed how greeting rituals vary from one culture to another, each student shared their diverse experiences when they all first met. As a bonus, each student contributed knowledge from his or her culture not only for the benefit of the group but also, to enhance the course content. A rich experience for both the participants and the professor.

3 Key Considerations for Online Training with a Diverse Audience

Content enrichment is but one of the multiple advantages brought on by a diverse audience. On the delivery side, however, there are a few considerations to keep in mind to warrant a valuable e-learning experience for your audience. Here are 3:

#1 Their language may not be your first language or the course’s language

Providing training to an international audience may mean it will be given in English – a language universally recognized as “the” business language. This might change eventually (as have other “norms” recently), but for now, it’s pretty much the norm. Although most who engage in business training speak English, it may not be their first language. This begs for consideration, particularly in the e-learning environment. The trainer must be mindful of the rhythm of delivery – slowing the pace, among other things – just as he or she will be juggling with various accents and learning processes. This also applies to the participants, namely in a learning environment involving interactivity such as question periods, group exercises or team breakaways.

#2 Considering gender roles and other cultural values

Every culture embraces its own values. Nordic European countries – such as Iceland – have been making significant headways in gender equity, ensuring women are viewed as equal to men on the work front. Confucian Asian countries such as China consider the voice of elders before that of younger generations. Hierarchy, as such, is a consideration when, for instance, a trainer is looking to stimulate engagement with Q&As. In which case, Chinese participants who are less familiar with North American culture might wait to be called upon, viewing the trainer as the authority figure.

#3 To group participants or not to group

One of the most recognized cultural values involves individualist vs. collectivist cultures. This will impact the value of group exercises and projects, whether the training takes place online or offline. For instance, the US is considered to be one of the most individualistic cultures, so a trainer might get more traction from assigning individual tasks or projects. Asian countries encompass mostly collectivist cultures. Pairing or grouping participants may well provide a valuable micro learning environment where participants can thrive.


ACCULTURA specializes in developing and delivering culturally intelligent content to help businesses succeed in multicultural environments. Our synchronous courses and asynchronous learning tools, available online, provide insightful and rich content for organizations to develop their cultural muscle. Happy e-learning!  


Photo by Fredrick Tendong on Unsplash



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