Friday, 22 May 2009

Thoughts from the Middle East - Part 1

OK, I have to admit that I’m a little excited today! I am lucky to be in a job that I enjoy – it gives me the challenges I need at work but also enables me to balance it with other things that I enjoy in my life, with my family being the priority. However, right now I am sitting on a plane bound for the Middle East thinking about the week ahead and the challenges it will bring.

I have formally worked in the learning and development world for about 5 years now but been involved in the world of L&D for much longer. In that time I have been engaged in many aspects of L&D ranging from the design and implementation of learning programmes through to talent management and coaching. However this week I have a new challenge and that’s adapting a learning programme so that it can be deployed in a completely different culture.

Working for my current client I have been heavily involved in the creation of a learning programme which is being deployed through a mixture of elearning and ‘classroom’ based sessions. It’s more about raising awareness and building a common level of understanding rather than ‘training’ but it’s really been designed with a ‘Western’ audience in mind (USA, UK, Australia and some parts of Europe).

Deploying this learning programme to a Middle Eastern country just won’t work in it’s current form. Why not?

  • The obvious one is language. Whilst we have translated the course into a number of different languages already, Arabic isn’t one of them. The specifics of the Arabic language bring their own challenges, especially with an elearning course.
  • The main one though is culture. The ‘classroom’ sessions involve exploring and discussing some case scenarios that are designed to challenge people’s thinking and help them understand various perspectives. The simple assumption that this will also work in a Middle Eastern culture is just not true. Whereas in my culture people are used to discussing an issue and then listening to others points of view, this isn’t necessarily the case in a Middle Eastern culture. Here people are brought up to have a strong point of view and it’s a very proud culture – showing that your view isn’t the ‘best’ may not be easy.

So for me there are a couple of important principles that I intend to follow:

  • We spent a long time working through and agreeing the required learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and attitudes). These were the driving force in designing the programme and measuring it’s success. Whilst the way the outcomes are achieved may be different I will be looking to ensure that they are still central to all of our thinking.

  • I need to make sure I really understand the culture and not make any assumptions about what I think will work. Pay attention to the small things as well as the big items!

  • Understand the audience: I intend to spend a significant time understanding the various audiences that will be taking part in the learning programme. What’s different about each of them and what do they have in common. How will I know that what we are suggesting will actually work?

  • Help the local team develop something rather than ‘do it for them’. I think it’s really important that the local team really own the piece of work – after all they are the people that really understand their environment and are the people who will have to deploy it. Picking up someone else’s work is a recipe for failure….

Well, that’s my initial thoughts – I wonder what other factors will come into play……I’ll keep you posted! If you have any advice then that would definitely be welcomed!

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