by Kelly Barbazette, The Training Clinic
Rethinking teaching methods before presenting workshops abroad will lead to more effective training experiences for the instructor and the adult learner, Training Clinic instructors say.
The time to become aware of who your workshop audience isn't the first day of class but before you even board the plane, say instructors for The Training Clinic, which has offered its “train the trainer” workshops internationally for the past nine years.
Kathleen Terry, a 15-year instructor for The Training Clinic, had to shift gears during a workshop in Singapore in 1997 when she realized that her students weren't responding to her usual teaching “bag of tricks.”
“If you try to foist your teaching methods, you're going to lose,” she said. “I say you learn quite quickly what doesn't work and what does.”
Terry's attempts to engage learners and elicit questions failed not because she was doing a poor job but because of her students' cultural attitudes and behaviors.
During workshops in the United States, Terry was used to being peppered with questions and anecdotes from learners. But in Terry's experience in Singapore, all of the information came from her, the instructor.
Singaporeans are much less direct than Americans, Terry has experienced. They prefer interacting in small groups and material presented in a lecture format rather than through discussion, she said.
Ron Garnett, a Training Clinic instructor, had a similar experience while teaching workshops in Singapore.
“The people in the class were extremely quiet and reserved and so it took a very intense effort to get participation on their part,” he said.
This cultural trait threads across many Asian countries, said Judy Frey, who has taught workshops in the Philippines and Indonesia for The Training Clinic. While Americans are taught to be assertive and their own individuals, some Asian cultures revolve around being a “group society,” she said.
As a result of their cultural differences, Terry said she learned to become more comfortable lecturing and engaging her students less frequently and to be patient with her audience's lack of participation.
While large group discussions are uncommon in Asia, Frey said she has found adult learners in Asia thrive in a small group setting, which conversely in the United States, doesn't always work.
“When given a task to work in groups, they really work well,” she said. It's common for one person in each group to be the assigned spokesperson, answering questions for the group. Frey added she had to allow more time for the group activity because the students were very concerned with taking into account each person's opinion and individual needs.
Terry advises learning about a culture before becoming immersed in it. Being open to changing one’s teaching approaches and being more culturally sensitive also will help result in a more successful workshop, she said.
Frey stressed that an instructor should consider beforehand how a managerial or interpersonal concept would fit into his or her audience's "cultural value system."
For example, how would students in the Philippines, where "saving face" is a big component of their culture react to assertiveness training?
“In presenting new ideas, we have to ask what will be their concerns based on their upbringing and the way they deal with each other?” Frey said.