eLearning Strategies: Understanding How Cultures Learn Differently
Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others”. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory consists of six dimensions which are listed below. These cultural dimensions represent preferences within the collective culture that distinguish countries (not individuals) from each other.
- Power Distance Index
- Individualism vs. Collectivism
- Masculinity vs. Feminity
- Uncertainty Avoidance Index
- Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation
- Indulgence vs. Restraint?
In regards to corporate learning, Hofstede’s work is quite relative in that much of the data was collected and evaluated while he was an IBM employee. The research has evolved into various certification programs for inter-cultural and global management certifications for both executive leaders and consultants.
Global eLearning has used Hofstede’s research, combined with other assessments provided by trainers in other cultures to formulate some learning tendencies within target cultures. We appreciate that individuals within each culture can behave within a diverse spectrum of attitudes and preferences. Therefore, we caution ourselves and our readers to avoid building too strict of a stereotype.
Connection with a Brazilian Workforce
Brazil, like the United States, is large enough to boast tropical heat, heavy snowfall, and its land area could house the entirety of Europe west of Russia. Its people are very diverse, making it difficult to make a one-size-fits-all guide to training Brazilians.
Within Geert Hofstede’s 6 dimensions of national culture, Brazil has average scores in all 6 dimensions and does not occupy the extreme ranges of the studied dimensions, making it a difficult country to define. Relatively speaking, Brazilians are more accepting of higher power distances than Americans, meaning they are more accepting of authoritative government or managerial systems. Brazil’s evaluation in uncertainty avoidance indicates they are more cautious in the face of ambiguity than Americans, but they are more tolerant of uncertainty than Russians, for example, or their neighbors in Chile and Argentina. Brazil skews slightly monumentalist regarding long-term orientation, so they will lean on the past to provide a moral compass but not to the extent that most Middle Eastern countries do. Brazilians are more collectivist than Americans but less so than Chinese. The takeaway is that Brazilians adhere to a more strict hierarchy that discourages questioning of one’s managers.
To work with Brazilians one must get to learn their colleagues or partners on a more personal level if you want to cultivate company loyalty. Expect to spend time socializing with new Brazilian employees as you work to gain their trust. This flies in the face of how many Americans separate their personal life from their business life and may require adjustment, but it is a key aspect of working with Brazilians. Due to their preference for face to face conversation, Brazilians may perform better with personalized, hands-on training instead of videos.
As stated, Brazilians operate with a stricter hierarchy in business, which may clash with the “open door” policy of many American companies. While being referred to as Mr. or Mrs. by an entry-level employee seems tolerable, keep in mind a Brazilian worker will expect respect upon assuming a managerial position and will not enjoy being questioned by their subordinates. Brazilians will also pay more attention to etiquette and protocol than their American counterparts, as it denotes class. Everyone in Brazilian culture is expected to know how to eat properly and carry themselves in a classy way, even those at lower pay grades. Etiquette carries more weight in business since Brazilians, again, do business with people instead of companies. Remember that you may be having more conversations at restaurants with colleagues than usual, and the expectation of etiquette continues after work hours.
Communication in Brazilian Portuguese depends heavily on nonverbal motions and context, so note your employee’s mannerisms, particularly with yes or no questions. “No” is somewhat of a dirty word in their very sociable society. The O.K. sign is very vulgar to Brazilians. Give them a thumbs up to offer encouragement.
If Americans live to work, Brazilians work to live. While most Americans do not use all their paid time off in a year, Brazilian workers will utilize all available vacation time. And family takes precedence over work. Americans may think Brazilians don’t take their job seriously because of this, and Brazilians may feel American’s don’t respect personal time. Find common ground.
Another aspect of Brazilian culture that may take some getting used to is how laid back they are with time. Lunches and dinners with colleagues may run 2-3 hours long. American meetings usually start with agendas, and the participants work down the list. Brazilians will also start with an agenda but will address the various points as the conversation naturally arrives at them, regardless of their position on the agenda. Brazilians can also lack punctuality. Perhaps you can explain that punctuality goes hand in hand with etiquette, convincing them to arrive on time if such an issue develops.
Training Guidelines for Employees in China
Chinese schools are like American schools in many ways, but the campuses are smaller, and the number of students per teacher is higher. The Chinese hold education in high regard, and students will complete homework even when bedridden in a hospital. Less serious individual needs are ignored—the group, not the child, is paramount. From the third grade onward, each subject is taught by a teacher who specializes in the subject. Chinese teachers have more freedom and don’t coddle their students; they demand high performance from all kids, regardless of their background, and help kids achieve it. The Program for International Student Assessment scores show that the 10% most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai have better math skills than the 10% most privileged students in the United States.
Chinese students are encouraged to have many interests, but education takes priority. For middle schoolers, homework takes about an hour to complete, but students willingly participate in extracurricular activities, which include supplemental classes as well as sports. Most schools have uniforms, and much of the learning is rote, memorization through repetition. Of particular note, only 4% of the nation’s secondary education graduates are admitted to universities.
Based on Hofstede’s research, China is similar to Russia in being a collectivist society, meaning that the individual knows their place in society. Individual decisions are less expected. China is a masculine society, wherein the citizens are more openly gendered in their roles than in feminine societies. Since China is considered a short-term orientation society with low indulgence, Chinese people typically respect tradition and believe that adhering to the past is morally good. For instance, Confucian thinking, valuing perseverance, self-control, and frugality, still pervades, and many Chinese respect symbols and omens.
As a restrained society, Chinese citizens see duty, not freedom, as the normal state of being. Oddly enough, China ranks very low in uncertainty avoidance, lower even than the United States. Chinese people are less likely to be anxious and distrustful in the face of the unknown and are more willing to take risks. China also ranks high in power distance acceptance, meaning that they are more accepting of uneven power distribution—a consequence of a communist government. However, in the last 20 years, Chinese workers have grown more individualistic and place a higher value on quality of life.
China is very nationalistic. When training Chinese workers, it is normally unwise to say they will be learning the “American way” of doing things. However, our company has experienced some departure from this at the non-managerial levels of employees. In one certification course offered by a U.S.-based nursing association, we discovered that Chinese professionals within a pilot program responded with some doubts that their localized eLearning courses were providing everything they needed to achieve competency. Because they knew the certificate was from an American organization, they expected more references to the American marketplace and style of delivery in order to feel comfortable it was authentic. In other words, Chinese nurses wanted some proof they weren’t receiving a watered-down curriculum.
It is best to explain things in a matter-of-fact manner that convinces Chinese employees of the authenticity of unfamiliar protocols. Many of them will be accustomed to tough workloads but will also expect available training tools, just like the weekend classes they took when in school. Due to their power distance acceptance, be sure to explain what position they will assume in the company’s hierarchy and who they will answer to. But remember this caveat: it can be devastating for a Chinese worker to lose face or be humiliated in front of others. Deliver criticism in private. Establish clear guidelines and expectations for their work. This will not overburden them with rules, as it will actually reaffirm that they are on the right track and give them more confidence. Do not ask if they have questions; test their knowledge and correct it. Again, do this in private if possible.
It may take time for employers to earn the trust of their Chinese employees or potential business partners, especially if they differ in nationality. Some Chinese hold foreigners in contempt for the exploitation of China that has occurred over the past 200 years. Fortunately, once a strong relationship is formed, Chinese professionals tend to be very loyal.
Key Learning Attributes in the Japanese Workforce
In Japan, the family, school, and community teach children how to be members of Japanese society. In home and at school, a child learns to develop self-discipline (hansei) and hard work. The effort and persistence exerted toward a goal is considered more important than achieving said goal. Children will learn the phrase yareba dekiru, meaning that if you try hard, you can do it. Japanese society is built upon the principle of Kata, where established roles ensure balance and harmony.
Progressing into elementary school, Japanese children are taught to be strong, be kindhearted, and to be diligent in study. Their teachers frame classroom rules and enforce those rules depending on the children and their relationships. The students are often divided into small teams for activities, including cleaning the classrooms, halls, and yards. Their cleaning duties are so extensive that many schools have no janitors or custodians. The first three years of school are for establishing good manners and developing characters. Students will take small tests but will not take exams until they reach 4th grade (age 10).
Most Japanese students enter preparatory schools or attend after-school workshops to improve their chances of earning admission into a good junior high school. Almost all students wear a uniform, and in general, learning is a far more serious matter than in the United States. 85% of students feel happy in school, and most never skip class.
Japan is a “masculine” society according to Hofstede’s dimensional studies. As a feminine society — relative to Japan — American employers cannot consider age, race, or sex in hiring decisions, which, combined with the greater ethnic diversity, creates a heterogeneous work force. A homogeneous workforce, in regards to basic knowledge, willingness to learn new skills, and ability to function as team members, is ideal.
Considering other dimensions of national culture, Japan ranks high in uncertainty avoidance and short-term orientation but ranks low in indulgence. So Japanese citizens tend to prefer fixed habits and rituals, and they value long-standing traditions that provide a moral compass.
Masanori Hashimoto, professor of economics at Ohio State University, studied the efficiency of American and Japanese auto- workers, the latter of whom builds a higher quality car in fewer hours. Hashimoto argues that technical training must include training in employment relations. Training in employment relations aims to teach employees how to better share information and responsibilities, how to teach colleagues, and how to deal with conflict. Japanese workers tend to be inherently better at these things because of their rigorous curriculum and cooperation in schooling. Another benefit from their schooling; Japanese workers are more likely to nurture inexperienced workers since their school teachers were rewarded for producing capable students. That tradition manifests in the work place, helping to lower the cost of technical training. However, that tradition relies on the intelligence of new workers. A manager at a Japanese car factory in the US stated that he cannot rely on self-study for technical training, partly due to the diverse levels of basic knowledge of the workers.
American companies favor applicants who already have the necessary expertise for a job, theoretically reducing training to a minimum. Japanese companies will overlook inexperience if an applicant is intelligent, has high energy, and is malleable. In some cases, Japanese managers in an auto factory thought it better to train than retrain new employees to meet company standards.
New recruits in Japanese companies attend orientation sessions in safety and culture. Thorough technical training follows. Yet as stated, training never truly ends, as experienced workers mentor them. Additional formal training may also be supplemented. To facilitate employment relations training, Japanese workers are more likely to socialize with their colleagues than American workers.
When training Japanese workers it is important to offer all available training tools. They will expect an in-depth training program that brings them up to speed and informs them of every aspect of their job. Summaries are not enough—they want to understand the details and nuances. This is why so many microlearning courses are not received well. Japanese learners expect longer training sessions since the presumption is that no details are being left out. Combine the technical training with clear information about the company’s policies and culture. Ensure the company’s hierarchy and expectations are clearly defined. Make any new employee feel welcome and include them in a small group of experienced workers who they can turn to for support and information. Japanese workers consider it a duty for managers and senior workers to train new team members.