How a Trip to Japan Changed my Perceptions around Culturally Inclusive Training.

I don’t think culture occurred to me until my family and I went to Japan in 2015. (I have wanted to visit since. Thanks, Covid). Being exposed to a different culture has opened my eyes to different ways of living. I was intrigued by the way people moved about their day. 

Two years after that trip to Japan, I was ready to move there. The only thing holding me back was that it is not easy to transport animals, let alone a bulldog overseas. The culture in Japan is not individualistic. Their ideals center around the “good of the group” and watching people put different thoughts into their day was fascinating and refreshing. 

Temple Garden, Tokyo Japan

Unless you are in the learning and development world, many don’t put “culturally inclusive” training top of mind. The irony is, culture exists in our backyards. Culture can be anything from:

  • Differing national origin (where a person comes from)
  • Differing states or cities 
  • Differing companies or divisions within companies 

In fact, in New Mexico, my home state. We are home to 23 Indigenous tribes. 23! How do trainers, designers, and facilitators support culturally diverse teams through their learning journey? 

Know your learners

Comedians and presenters must know their audience to be impactful.  One culturally offensive joke; they can lose all credibility. Learning is no different. Specific colors, language, or cultural references can be offensive or lost in translation altogether. 

For instance, Japan has a high context culture, meaning seniority and authority play a role in their decision-making. Where in the US, communication is much more straightforward and direct. 

A group of learners from a higher context society may rely more on the “respect” and “authority” that comes with being an instructor (Gunawardena, et. al). Learning activities less competitive in nature and benefit the group may warrant more success. 

Avoid Jargon

Every culture and industry has jargon. Jargon is a set of slang or language that has a specific meaning where those outside of the industry or culture would not understand. 

For example, it is common to refer to the Albuquerque area as the “505”. Those who live in another state might have thoughts like: 

  • Is that the New Mexico area code? 
  • isn’t “505” chile you can buy at Costco? 

Jargon can make communication unclear for learners. Worst-case scenario, we may unintentionally use slang or jargon that is offensive to another culture. Ensure that your training materials and communication are free of slang and jargon. Consider a beta test of your materials before course launch. Have a diverse group of peers review the materials to make sure the documents are clear and understandable to your audience. 

Foster a community of practice 

Community of Practice. A group of individuals who come together for the same mission. Communities of practice benefits learning because everyone learns from each other. 

All learners have different “know-how.” We can all contribute to a community to make it better. How does one build a community of practice across cultural boundaries? 

  • Investigate how students might learn best and feel safe to learn
  • Offer support and guidance for learners 
  • Whether online or face-to-face set boundaries 
  • Use colors, and both verbal and non-verbal language that is culturally appropriate
Outside Imperial Palace, Tokyo Japan
McDonalds was a must try!

Source: Culturally Inclusive Instructional Design, 2019

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