Saturday, December 20, 2008

Staying culturally relevant in today’s global society

Given the speed at which technology is advancing, both in innovation and distribution, groups and individuals seem to be classified as technology haves or have-nots. The haves are seen as smarter or more successful than the have-nots. The haves then suppose it their duty to impart their ways on the poor have-nots, whether or not their help is needed or requested. Looking deep down, however, it does not appear that technology itself really causes anyone to change, rather it facilitates desired changes. Whether those desired changes are for the better or the worse depends, of course, on the situation.

In addition to technological advancements, there are many more aspects by which various cultures may differ, including geography, religion, language, social structures, traditions, available resources, etc. Technology is hailed by some as an equalizer, allowing members of cultures that might not otherwise have a voice to publish their story for the world, but it may come at a price of lost traditions and ways of life (Bowers, Vasquez & Roaf, 2000).

That is not to say that cultures should not communicate and mix to create new traditions and understanding of others. Quite the opposite is true. As we come to learn and know how and why we are different, we will understand our own background better and realize that because of our differences, everyone has something to offer. As the field of Instructional Technology continues to develop and make advances in understanding and dealing with accommodating differences between individuals and groups, practitioners find themselves developing more personalized instruction that must be sensitive to the cultural needs of their constituents.

Thomas, Mitchell & Joseph (2000) point out that the traditional ADDIE process of instructional design addresses culture in the analysis phase, but go on to encourage designers to continue interacting with the learners throughout all phases of development. In fact, they propose a third dimension to ADDIE consisting of Intention, Interaction, and Introspection that are meant to be continually evaluated during each of the steps of the standard model.

These three I’s in their three dimensional ADDIE model serve to ensure that designers pay attention to what cultures they are developing instruction for, communicate and collaborate with stakeholders, and reflect on their own thoughts and actions throughout the entire process. These additional steps may seem redundant, i.e. introspection sprinkled throughout the process just like evaluation; however, the difference between their three I’s and the existing five steps is that the I’s are specifically focused on culture, since that element is often forgotten. By adding the third dimension, designers are reminded that their instruction cannot and should not be culturally neutral, so an extra measure of care should be taken regarding cultural issues.

That said, other than recommending that designers think about culture throughout the process, this three dimensional ADDIE model does little to actually provide any real framework for incorporating cultural methods into instruction. In order to provide a meaningful model to follow, it is likely that a systematic approach is needed. Such an approach provides a scaffold for novices, which they gradually remove as they become expert designers. It is not that experts do not need to perform all the same steps, but they usually perform them intuitively and naturally. The challenge, then, in a new framework is to integrate cultural sensitivity in such a way that experienced designers will be willing to take the time to adjust their current methods and established knowledge to take into account the additional dimension.

In order for an organization to make such a change in their own methods and cultures, a change management program may be required. Jones, Aguirre & Calderone (2004) present a set of 10 tools and techniques for helping a company transform, providing means for individuals to manage their own change and an entire organization to implement a change as well. Without individual change, no collective change can be effected.

Their 10 Principles of Change Management include the following steps:
1. Address the “human side” systematically.
2. Start at the top.
3. Involve every layer.
4. Make the formal case.
5. Create ownership.
6. Communicate the message.
7. Assess the cultural landscape.
8. Address culture explicitly.
9. Prepare for the unexpected.
10. Speak to the individual.
Steps 1, 2, and 3 really state that any change must be planned out before it is implemented, modeled by the leadership of the organization, and implemented everywhere. If it is not, that shows a lack of commitment and the change will fail. Change is embraced by few, especially when it is not carefully thought out before implementation.

In making a case to each level of the organization (Step 4), the need for change must be established and a viable roadmap must be presented. Just as andragogical principles, such as the need for adults to know why they are learning something and that adults learn better with a problem-based approach than with a passive “fill me up with knowledge” approach (Freire, 1970), guide instruction of adults, they must also be utilized in any change management system (which is really just instruction anyway).

This andragogical approach to change management will ensure that all levels of the organization will claim ownership and participate in communicating the message to others (Steps 5 and 6). Steps 7 through 10 are really the core of this approach to change management, since they deal directly with changing the culture of the organization in question. This is especially interesting in terms of the current question of how to ensure the consideration of culture in instructional design.

Of course the new culture must be assessed before it may be addressed. Thorough assessment of the culture will identify values, beliefs, sources of leadership, and sources of resistance. It may be worth a reminder that this model is a change management model, which can be used for any business-related change, not just for instructional projects. A new culture may be desired or two merging companies may be combining their cultures. It also may be that other changes are made within an established culture. This model applies to instructional projects within a different culture, as long as the designers remember their obligation to develop materials that fit within the appropriate cultural context without intentionally or unintentionally disrupting established culture. It may be that an intervention is designed to change culture, such as recent campaigns in China to encourage taxi drivers to shower and brush their teeth in preparation for the Olympic Games held there earlier this year. Even such an intervention that is meant to improve cultural practices needs to be approached correctly in order to obtain buy-in from all stakeholders.

Throughout the change process, all those involved should be prepared to expect the unexpected. No plan goes perfectly, but by being willing to deal with issues as they arrive, everything will go more smoothly. The reason there are differences is because people are involved. The stakeholders should be respected, consulted, and otherwise involved in the process.

When designing instruction for those of other cultures, it may be that it is new instruction from the ground up or it may be a remix of existing instruction. The differences between a designer’s background and that of those who will be participating in the instruction need to be defined and integrated with the appropriate design model. ADDIE principles apply in any situation really, as long as the above-mentioned steps are taken to ensure integration with the new cultural milieu. Hites & Casterline (1986) discuss a few steps in designing instruction for other cultures. Based on a needs analysis, they recommend asking if technology is appropriate to the situation and if the objectives are the same. Next, they remind us to consider motivational factors, the level of English comprehension, entry skills and knowledge, and learning style preferences. At this point, all existing training materials and their delivery methods are up for change as needed. An important observation they make is the need to provide training for the instructor if he or she is not from the same culture as the students. Instructor training should include both content and culture. Following the ADDIE process, formative and summative evaluations should be held and appropriate revisions made.

By utilizing a combination of these models, it is more likely that effective, culturally relevant instruction will result. Designers should stay aware of their own cultural biases and backgrounds, stay focused on providing the best instruction while doing no harm, utilize stakeholders throughout the process of analyzing, designing, and developing instruction to create ownership among those to receive instruction, prepare the instructors as needed, and be flexible.


Bowers, C.A., Vasquez, M., Roaf, M. (2000). “Native People and the Challenge of Computers: Reservation Schools, Individualism, and Consumerism.” American Indian Quarterly 24(2).

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

Hites, J.M., Casterline, S. (1986). “Adapting Training for Other Cultures.” Annual Conference of the National Society for Performance and Instruction.

Jones, J., Aguirre, D., & Calderone, M. (2004). “10 Principles of Change Management.” Strategy+Business.

Thomas, M., Mitchell, M., Joseph, R. (2000) “The Third Dimension of ADDIE: A Cultural Embrace.” TechTrends 46(2).

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