Dissertation: Different Preferences in Learning Between American and French Learners in a Multinational Corporate Setting

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¶ … Preferences in Learning between American and French Learners in a Multinational Corporate Setting

The way training is delivered in a corporate environment has a tremendous effect on results. This study investigates the role of culture in the learning styles of adult French and American students enrolled in online training programs at an international university. Using Kolb's learning style inventory, the learning style preferences of respondents in both cultural groups will be classified as divergers, convergers, accommodators, and assimilators, reflecting their general tendencies toward learning environments as conceptualized by Kolb (1985). The assumption is that Americans prefer to learn from action-oriented methods and are more comfortable learning from activities that are not job related, such as role plays and games, than do their French counterparts who prefer to learn from job-related activities based on solid research. These preferences will then be examined in light of learners' responses to Hofstede's Culture in the Workplace questionnaire, which examines cultural tendencies towards collectivism/individualism, power orientation, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity, and long/short-term orientation (Hofstede, 1980). The sample population will be composed of 150 American and 150 French trainees. They are all employed in multinationals and hold jobs that require them to attend corporate training and travel around the world. Conclusions will be drawn which compare French and American cultural differences in learning style preferences and the extent to which these preferences are mediated by cultural orientations as conceptualized by Hofstede (1980). Results will assist multinational corporations in understanding the role of culture in their training scenarios as they seek to provide more effective training for their increasingly cultural diverse learner populations which can provide some proof that they will be successful in using the new skills.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Today's research is very extensive on both learning styles and cultural differences. Both topics have been and still are explored in great detail as they appeal to a great number of people, namely in a time where globalization and continuous education are enhanced. However, it is interesting to observe that there is very little research devoted to the interaction and the relationship between the two. Knowing how to train an individual depending on his or her learning style preference affects the retention of the information and of the skill that is supposed to result from the session. Findings about learning styles have been helping many teachers and trainers in their approach. Likewise, students and trainees have been reassured that their learning styles will not cause a problem as they only reflect a preference. Yet, lack of understanding of a person's preference can affect the outcome of a training session and lead to frustration, rather than learning.

Regarding the cultural topic, there has been a great amount of research, models and theories developed. But while a lot has been written about culture, the focus systematically goes on behavior differences between populations and not on how each population learns. Both learning styles and cultural differences are nowadays taken into account in the human resource environment, but there is a lack of empirical studies to show what is most effective in a given context and with a given population. When a company asks for training, objectives are set and a target population is defined. Yet, no assessment is given on the new skills acquisition processes.

This study will further research in this area to help large international companies and multinationals seeking to offer the same training to their employees around the world and look to adapt to different cultures. If training is given in the same way to anyone, as it is commonly the case, there will be a different impact on each individual as a consequence. A great number of training materials are delivered in the same way all over the world without any adaptation. The result is the unequal impact of the same training leads to a great loss of time and money. Currently, the responsibility is given to the trainers or to the methodology applied, but the fact is that to obtain the best results there needs to be an understanding on how different learners prefer to learn.

International training providers offer expensive sessions and certify their own trainers and consultants to deliver consistent programs around the world. This researcher has been working in this field for 20 years delivering nearly 1000 sessions to more than 10,000 individuals and has observed that the result is often knowledge but not skill. And where companies invest in training, it is not for only acquiring new information, but to increase performance and effectiveness. Therefore, it is important to adapt training and style to each population, but also to be aware that how one group of trainees is composed will have an impact on each individual results.

Research on Kolb's Learning Styles shows that trainers tend to adopt the style that corresponds to their own preference instead of adapting to their audience. Also, research shows that if an individual learns in his or her preferred style will retain more quickly the skill and will most likely be motivated to apply it in real life. When dealing with cultural differences there is a very extensive research on the need to adapt to culture to increase one's impact, though not necessarily on the learning aspects.

In order to explore the relationship between learning styles and culture, this study will focus on the differences between the Americans and the French learners as they have, according to research (Hofstede, 1979), opposite cultural dimensions. Also, access to these cultures is feasible in a rather short time frame and within the researcher's professional environment and geographic location. The purpose of this research is twofold: on one hand it aims at creating a framework that would provide companies and trainers criteria to take into account when organizing and delivering training sessions. On the other hand, the same framework will give training designers the necessary basis to adapt the contents and styles of their materials to different types of audiences. Today we see training manuals that are translated into several languages and delivered exactly the same way. In the future, we need to see training materials containing activities to appeal to and satisfy all learning styles and possible alternatives to fit different cultures. For example, there could be appendixes per culture where adapted activities are listed. The multicultural manual would then be used as a toolbox where in each culture every trainer and every company chooses what is most relevant and compatible in their context.

Background to the Study

The link between culture and training

Before discussing how culture effects training and development, it is appropriate to define what culture is. Peterson (1997:64) quotes Kluckhohn (1951), who defines culture as "patterned ways of thinking, feeling, and reacting that are acquired and transmitted mainly by symbols and that constitute the distinctive achievement of a human group."

Johnson (1991) provides an example of a lack of "fit" of western management strategies in the third world countries. He stated that most third world countries do not support individualism. Their cultures are collectivist in nature. He suggests that though collectivism does not preclude leadership, it does suggest that training programme for third world countries need to be designed within the collectivist philosophy. Hofstede (1980), quoted in Weir (1996:399), observe that "Arab countries are mid-way between the highly westernised countries which rate strongly on individualism, and the Latin Americans societies which rank at the other extreme."

Huang (1996) support the view that culture has to be taken into consideration when designing training programmes. He remarks that although human nature and the human brain operate in the same way the world over, people from other cultures speak different language and behave differently. Each country has its own values, beliefs, ideas, and views of the world. If the trainer does not understand the characteristics of trainee's culture, history, and socio-economic background, even the best programme will not be effective.

Schermerhorn (1994) carried out an interview with Asma Abdullah, a corporate trainer in inter-cultural management. Although she conducted training programmes in Malaysia, her finding are applicable to training programmes in other countries as well. Asma Abdullah emphasises that training programmes must start with understanding of values at the individual as well of the culture levels. The influence of ethnic values is very important in making employees acquire the appropriate skills on the job. It has to start with self-appreciation and only then can employees find meaning on what they do. To her, effective training will only occur when the person's personal and cultural values have been identified and taken into consideration. When this area is ignored, training will not be successful when only foreign elements are being introduced.

Corporate trainer Asma Abdullah was asked about the best approach to take for training in a foreign environment. She stated that the value of the participants must be affirmed; specially those which are part of their cultural heritage and are the basis of their shared practices. Once these values are indentified, then one can begin to look… [END OF PREVIEW]

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