multicultural business teamBack in August 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek, on its “The Debate Room” page, put forth the following proposition for debate: “Virtual Training Beats In-Person Training.” Speaking in favor of the proposition, Donna Wells of Mindflash, a maker of e-learning software, argued that “Dramatic shifts in communication, behavior patterns, and technological innovation make it vital for companies to adopt the most efficient, cost-effective training tools or risk being left behind.”

On the other side, Peter Ostrow of Aberdeen Group stated that his research of 1,700 companies showed that, at least for sales training, live training was still the best: “I can clearly link live, in-person, instructor-led classroom training to the most successful sales organizations.”

Having handled the translation of many e-learning applications, MTM LinguaSoft is not about to argue against the value of online training. For many nuts and bolts topics it can be more efficient, effective and cheaper than face-to-face training, especially with the newer learning management systems that can track progress and monitor the results of online assessments.

Yet it is not surprising that in-person sales training continues to prove most successful. As one of the commenters on the Businessweek debate wrote: “When you want real business impact and behavioral change nothing beats instructor-led in-person training.” Arguably no type of training aims at behavioral change more than cultural training.

The positive impact of cultural training on an organization are substantial: increasing morale, improving communication, bringing a wider range of opinion and experience into decision-making, and reducing the possibility of embarrassing culturally-based missteps. But attaining this impact requires that participants truly explore their own behavior and modify their usual reactions.

The concept of cultural training is often confused with simply learning facts about another country, but that is far from the truth. Consultant Carol Cunningham summarized the goals in an earlier interview on this blog:

  1. Awareness of how cultural influences affect one’s own thinking, behavior and communication style.
  2. Recognition, understanding, and appreciation of the fact that people in other countries do things differently.
  3. Willingness to adapt and develop the skills to be effective.

This kind of training absolutely requires a learning environment that allows for in-depth discussion, role-playing, demonstrations—the kind of give and take that can only be achieved in face to face situations. This kind of training is designed to develop what Carol calls “cultural intelligence,” which can then be applied to particular cultures and situations.

In-person learning also allows for training to be customized for the particular needs of your company. Preparing to enter a specific new market and teaching multicultural teams of employees in work well together may require different approaches.

This doesn’t mean that there is no place of e-learning in cultural training. As in many areas, a blended approach may make the best use of time and resources. A good base of in-person training is vital, however, for effective cultural competence training.

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