Cultural differences in learning: as the world gets smaller, do our challenges get bigger?

I’m having a whole range of interesting conversations about the challenges of global learning delivery at the moment. I’m particularly interested in cultural differences in social learning spaces, understanding whose rules apply here.

In essence, the challenge is simple: people are different, societies have different legal and moral frameworks as well as cultural norms around gender and sexuality, as well as wider issues of freedom and human rights. Technology makes the world smaller, it lets us come together in social spaces, semi formal learning environments, but this means that our differences can come to the fore.

Should we always seek to champion our values, should we always fight for our rights, or are there times when pragmatism should rule? Is it more important to build consensus, to develop relationships, to establish commonality before we look at difference. Or is it moral cowardice to avoid the fight? Should we always seek to fix the difference first?

We have a range of stances that we can adopt: we can legislate against the discussion, we can allow the community to form it’s own rules, or we can segment the spaces to avoid conflict.

If we legislate, we put in place rules that ask people not to discuss sensitive subjects. For example, we may say that, as this is a global learning space, we want to avoid discussions around religion. We can say that we recognise that different people have different beliefs, but that we believe this is not a subject for discussion at work. As long as my beliefs don’t impact on your well-being, we leave religion at the door. This is often the default, unspoken rule. But what about when differences painful? What if your religious views impact on how you interact with people or who you want to interact with? Is it a matter of personal responsibility to simply withdraw from the space, or do we bring our views out for discussion?

Allowing communities to form their own ground rules may work in some situations, but runs the risk of alienating some people or of contravening local laws or rules. One could argue that virtual communities are distinct from physical ones, that they can set their own ethical boundaries (within international legal frameworks), but that feels like ducking the issue. Surely the organisation has a responsibility (possibly a legal one) to safeguard minority views?

Or we can segment communities: we could create spaces that are diverse and mixed, and spaces that are just for men, or just for people with specific beliefs. Feels desperately ghettoised. Instinctively feels bad to throw up walls, but maybe that’s because i’m liberal, western, comfortable with difference.

As we increasingly use these spaces, as we come together, our differences become more apparent. We need to find ways to coexist, to be productive, to learn together, to learn from our difference as well as our similarity. But we need to do this with care: we have to respect other people, but it’s ok to challenge as well. I guess most discussions are ok if handled with respect and treating people with dignity.

You can take part in the research over here in the Learning Forum

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Challenge, Community, Culture, Difference, Diversity, Engagement, Forum, Freedom, Global, Inclusivity, Research, Social Learning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cultural differences in learning: as the world gets smaller, do our challenges get bigger?

  1. Adri says:

    I agree with you. We can better understand diverse cultures by learning a least a little about them and be able to relate to them. I have a blog for my English class and it’s about my culture, I decided to share about my experiences with different cultures as well as about my own.

    • julianstodd says:

      Blogs are great for narrating your learning, providing a train of thought of what you are learning whilst you do it. The kind of work you do with the class sounds interesting – thanks for sharing

  2. Pingback: Building a marketplace for ideas: #diversity for social learning | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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