Cross-Cultural Learning In Adults Essay

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As communication technologies are connecting people from all over the world within seconds, exploding world populations are becoming more mobile than ever before, and globalization is affecting national economies, political systems, businesses, and entire cultures. As a result, there is an increasing demand for cross-cultural learning in adult education. This exponential change impacts individuals and populations daily on a global scale, confronting millions of people with different cultural values, traditions, and norms, and often finding them ill-prepared to respond.

Cross-cultural learning enables people to gain an awareness and understanding of an environment characterized by many cultures intersecting and interacting; people are then capable of functioning and problem-solving as global citizens. From a sociocultural-global perspective, this type of learning may prove essential for future coexistence of populations on both a micro and macro level. Cross-cultural learning blends the traditional types of experiential training techniques with eclectic, innovative educational teaching methods, striving to equip the adult learner with both theoretical knowledge and practical skills and competencies. Effective cross-cultural learning also requires flexible leadership that is well versed in many educational methods. A variety of cross-cultural training programs have been developed over the years to assist specific cultural groups with cross-cultural adjustments or to prepare individuals for overseas assignments.


Cross-cultural is sometimes replaced by intercultural or multicultural. Both of these terms are used in various fields, such as education, communication, psychology, and anthropology, to refer to the exchange between two cultures or interaction between two or more differing cultures. All of these terms may also refer to the inclusion of multiple cultural groups. Multicultural has also been used in particular sociopolitical and educational contexts in Europe to describe a specific type of integration within communal policy and guidelines for community development programs.

The term cross-cultural is generally used to designate that which extends beyond one set of cultural norms, traditions, boundaries, and unspoken givens and is applicable and relevant across differing cultures or in varying cultural contexts. Hence, cross-cultural learning for members of one culture involves the inclusion of familiar and given elements in their own culture coupled with unfamiliar elements of other cultures, challenging them to travel outside their cultural conventions and personal comfort zone into unknown territory. The metaphor of “exploration” captures the essence of this type of learning experience, however, not into utter wilderness but into foreign terrain, inhabited and valued by others.

Basic Elements

The striking aspect of cross-cultural learning is that it involves the convergence of knowledge acquisition and transferable skills and competencies, which cannot be viewed as separate entities. This type of cognitive and behavioral learning is neither provincial nor static. In contrast to traditional learning assessment in academic settings, cross-cultural learning cannot be measured by standardized tests or the amount of material successfully memorized. Effective cross-cultural learning entails critical inquiry and the subsequent transfer of theory and concepts into praxis. In other words, people develop and learn new concrete skills and competencies based on their newly acquired knowledge, experiences, and understanding.

At the micro or individual level, there are at least four components to cross-cultural learning. Initially, assumptions and facts about cultures are explored. Generally, people—students or participants—first need to understand the significance of culture and become aware of their own cultural scripts and boundaries, including common ethnocentric tendencies, assuming the universality of one cultural system.

Following self-awareness of cultural identity, people are better able to gain an appreciation for significant cultural differences, problems, and conflicts, as well as the often inevitable emotional responses such as stress, frustration, or anxiety that may accompany initial exposure to another, unfamiliar culture. This is often referred to as culture shock. Coupled with culture shock is the shock of a problem or a conflict erupting seemingly out of nowhere, or being interpreted and viewed in a totally different cultural context.

A third component of cross-cultural learning, which may or may not occur after the above components, is the critical identification and assessment of cultural variations such as dress and appearance, food and eating habits, body language, nonverbal communication and cues, personal sense of physical space, and individual cultural orientations of what is and what is not appropriate. In this process, individuals are sensitized to common thought and behavioral patterns of other cultures, attitudes, perceptions, interpretations, values, norms, beliefs, and even “peculiar” customs.

Following individuals’ attainment of greater awareness, understanding, and possibly empathy, their observations and abstract constructs about cultural variations come to life when they are translated into specific situations to practice. Both the content and the process of this learning target cognitions, behaviors, and emotions. At this point in cross-cultural learning, individuals are challenged to practice, develop, and refine concrete strategies, skills, and competencies via exercises such as role-plays, simulation games, critical incidents, or case studies. Follow-up reflection and analysis of the effectiveness and relevance to real life, and present-day situations are essential and reinforce the learning and transfer of theory into praxis.

At the macro or societal level, fundamental cultural patterns in society such as urban development, national traditions, religious practices, health care, child care norms, patterns of consumption, gender and family dynamics, recreation, socioeconomic realities and political systems, and the role and impact of oppression including racism and prejudice are illuminated. Other specific phenomena may be addressed as well, such as high versus low cultural contexts, monochronic versus polychronic cultural time systems, past or future cultural orientations, or an individualistic versus collectivist framework. Not only information pertaining to cultures in general, but also culture-specific knowledge may be introduced. Concurrently, the spectrum of culturally approved group behaviors, meanings, and expectations might also be explored for distinct populations.

Effective Teaching Methods

Participatory, transformative, and empowering methods of teaching are necessary for cross-cultural learning. The teacher or instructor facilitates a learning process by which participants are enabled to integrate knowledge cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. An interactive and experiential framework is essential. Nina L. Dulabaum’s evaluation research identified four major guidelines for facilitating cross-cultural learning and cross-cultural conflict transformation: (1) reach a preliminary consensus on the group’s focus, goals, and pace; (2) build rapport and foster dialogue and critical exchange (everyone can become an expert, not just the teacher, instructor, or leader); (3) empower participants to take ownership of their learning process; and finally, (4) blend theory and practice continuously.

Effective leadership also includes fostering a never-ending learning cycle characterized by multiple stages of critical analysis and reflection. As participants explore theory and praxis by experimenting with different strategies for implementation, it is a fine art to maintain the delicate balance of accepting individuals while challenging them to move outside and beyond their personal comfort zone, to think and feel anew, in order to gain greater awareness, understanding, and knowledge.

Cross-cultural learning has applications in many professions, for example in business, education, health care, and the social services where greater sensitivity and competence in dealing with the complexities of cultural differences and practices is critical. Educating people to search for solutions, creatively engineer strategies, and build bridges to members of other cultures with whom they interact at the local, city, state, national, and international level is critical. This in turn has implications and applications for the entire sociopolitical process.


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