Cultural Competency in Online Training: 3 Strategies For An Inclusive Classroom

Healthcare agencies understand why cultural competency is important among their patients and clients. But too few prioritize cultural competency with their professional development and training.

The APA defines cultural competence as:

the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from one’s own.

American Psychological Association

Remote training is the new standard for bringing skills to staff. In a time when sitting in a conference room is limited or not possible with physical distancing, distance learning has enabled employers to train new staff and upskill others.

But a rising population of online learners doesn’t necessarily mean that all training can meet the needs of culturally diverse learners. Sometimes training programs or courses are simply a document passed around, or a recorded Zoom session. A trainer might take the time to research the group and their cultural needs if they’re doing an on-site session, yet they skip right over possible differences when they’re delivering something online.

For any online learning environment, here are three ways to boost cultural competency and success rate in your online learning—no matter where you are.

1. Find out who the learners are, including their cultural background.

Understanding the differences among staff members will make the online learning experience more enriching for everyone involved. Cross-cultural communication is not only about considering demographic information about each participant. It also means being conscious of how their role within their organization or society at large will impact what they say and how they say it.

Your learners are the core of your cultural competency. Once you take the time to understand them, you’re one step closer to knowing how to respect their individuality and cultural differences. This is also a good strategy for making sure that your online courses are effective.

Once you know who the learners are, you can choose or develop courses that meet their unique needs. Do they need multilingual support? Should they be able to take courses between client visits? Do they need literacy support before taking a course? Make those changes.

Then, when training starts, ask managers and trainers to put themselves in the shoes of each other before completing training. What kinds of challenges could culturally or ethnically diverse learners face in taking a course? This small request can build up valuable empathy among your team. That boosts relationships that will show in the working day.

2. Set virtual meeting rules.

When the group comes together, set ground rules. Do this at the same time you tell people to go on mute if they’re not speaking. It sets the tone and gives everyone a shared framework for group learning.

Setting ground rules can clarify what is acceptable or not acceptable at your online training session. Cultural competency includes accounting for learners’ different styles of communication: Some cultures might feel comfortable taking calls or asking questions at any time—others don’t. Some people find online training intimidating, so this can help them understand what you expect.

If any cross-cultural communication issues crop up, be gentle when you address them. Rather than correcting people publicly or addressing them from the position of authority, turn communication gaffes into learning experiences.

Ask participants questions that allow everyone to explore their preconceived notions about a topic or individual. Use the discussion to explore deeper issues within the course and its contents, especially among students who disagree or argue about a particular topic. You might ask people to share what the cultural norm is for them in a training session, and use that as a starting point. On the flip side, be sure to moderate conversations that could escalate — such as personal beliefs vs. standard facts. As you’ve probably heard, sensitive topics are better left off the table.

3. Create ways for learners to share personal stories.

Virtual training can feel isolating. Without making an attempt to engage learners, elearning can make it too easy for administrators to assume everyone feels the same way.

Find some ways to encourage learners to tell their own stories with each other. Cultural competency is easier when you can learn directly from everyone what their experience and norms are. This also pushes collaborative learning, which is a great way to drive performance and retention.

Sparking these conversations can happen in many formats. Most discussions in the course occur in the forums, in breakout rooms, or in team chat platforms. Other tools in learning systems let administrators reach out to participants privately, especially in a case when a student seems to struggle with a concept or deadline. Use Private Journals, personal email, and in extreme cases telephone or personal meeting. Here are some more ideas for improving communication in training.

Although the course itself is online, the people in it are real. Taking the time to make a personal connection can make all the difference in the ultimate resolution.

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