At its broadest, cultural competence includes both globalization (designing training for users from different countries or around the world) and localization (making training that appeals to specific groups of local people, such as Southern US manufacturing new-hires.) But cultural competence doesn’t just mean preparing training for delivery across borders. It also means making training that appeals to people from different backgrounds within our own organizations. If you’re tasked with effectively training both a Somali immigrant who works in the mail room and a Salvadoran payroll processing clerk, you have cultural competence issues.

Here’s a list of specific suggestions to make your training more culturally competent.

Content Imagery

  • Cultures often differ in their perceptions of the relationship between the individual and the group and between individuals and authority. For your training to appeal to people with different cultural backgrounds, pay attention to the number of people images used in the training and whether the imagery is of individuals or groups of people. People from cooperative cultures where group membership is more important, may not respond to a course that shows many isolated individuals. Individualist cultures may not see the “success” you intended in a photo of a happy group of softball players admiring their team trophy.
  • Similarly, one of the biggest differences between cultures is how each perceives the relations between the sexes. As enlightened trainers we’re sensitive to portraying people from different races, classes, and gender in different roles throughout our training. But to be culturally competent, some researchers suggest you should limit the imagery showing the sexes interacting as this is one of the most troublesome areas to keep straight from culture to culture.

Visual Design

  • Design neutral-facing pages. Keep in mind that not all cultures follow the tradition of reading from left to right. Middle Eastern cultures, for example, read text from right to left. East Asian cultures read pages from top to bottom. This applies to text as well as graphics. If your content is meant to show two alternatives or an ordered sequence (good, better, best for example), users may not start with the alternative you expect.
  • Adjust the metaphors of your training to fit the intended audiences. Not all cultures will relate to even the seemingly universal reference of file folders and desktops. You should ask yourself, for example, if all your users will really understand the “race metaphor” of your “Drive for Success” training program (starting line for the first lesson, pit stops for check for understanding, checkpoints for lessons and a checkered flag for the finish.)
  • Be careful not to choose color schemes that accidentally mimic a foreign flag or national identity. As an American, would you react differently to a course that made heavy use of red, white, and blue, especially if it was unintentional? Are you training a significant number of Mexican users? Do you know the color schemes of the two major Mexican political parties? How would you react if you had to take training that unintentionally used a donkey and an elephant (icons for the Democratic and Republican parties in the US) as design elements?

Language and text

  • For multilingual audiences, try to translate the content into the appropriate languages and make it easy to switch languages. Be sure and put the link for Spanish, for example, in Spanish.
  • Review on-screen text for slang, jargon, Americanisms, and gender-specific terms. Pay particular attention to similes and metaphors as they are often culture-specific.
  • Keep in mind that clever acronyms usually don’t translate well into other languages. The easy-to remember KISS acronym (Keep It Simple Stupid) makes no sense in any other language but English. In Spanish, the acronym for the National Organization for Women (NOW in English) would be ONM.

And remember, the easiest way to judge the cultural competence of your course, is to review it with people in the intended audiences (presumably from a diverse background of cultures), not just the people “buying the training.”