As you’ve come to get familiar with my topic on culture and cultural differences within the association community, my statement is: “nothing is culturally neutral”. So is the case with learning and education: different cultures learn and teach differently. Both formally and informally.

Here are some examples.

How Do We Learn?

Different cultures learn things differently. For instance: Anglo-Saxon cultures prefer to start their learning process or learning curve with a practical example, as a case study. These case studies (or stories or examples) lead to a practical framework, which could but not necessarily, lead to a theoretical framework.

The basic question that needs to be answered in Anglo-Saxon learning is: “Show me that it works and how I can use and benefit from it”.

For the French (and e.g. Belgians, Italians, and South Americans) this is not the way to do things. In those cultures, you start with a theoretical framework. From there you get to the practical parts. The American David Kolb has done some excellent research on this.

The cultural dimension here is predictability (read more about that here).

Below you can see Kolb’s Learning Cycle.

Kolb's Learning Cycle

Reading a Curriculum Vitae Correctly

Assessing whether you have the right candidate often starts with assessing someone’s CV. But those are also not culturally neutral.

An American assessing the CV of a German or Swede will often wonder if they found the right person in the first place. The reason being is that CVs of Germans and Scandinavians are often relatively moderate but also very factual.

E.g. if a Swede speaks only three words of French, his or her CV will read “Level of French: 3 words”. The American will wonder: is that all he or she can do? The answer is yes! And he/she can do it all!

Turn the tables and a Scandinavian HR manager assessing the CV of an American will often think that he/she has Superman in front of him/her. This is because in the US you need to polish or brush up your CV significantly to stand out in that market (read culture).

Giving and Receiving Feedback

Question: what kind of feedback do you most often get from clients, peers, or managers?

Most people will say negative feedback. But in most cultures, you will get a compliment or positive feedback every now and then when you’ve done something right.

Not in Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. There, positive peer-to-peer assessment is generally seen as suspicious. “What do you want from me?” is often thought of when receiving too explicit positive feedback. Hence the Nordic countries, and the Netherlands additionally, give positive feedback rather sparsely. Keep this in mind when giving peer-to-peer feedback.

Putting it All Together

The topic of education across cultures is a very delicate one. Because if you don’t get it right people will recent the learning and hence will not learn or not accept what needs to be learned. Keep the above considerations in mind and you’re halfway there.

Read here why e-learning to understand different cultures is a bad idea.

Want to better understand different cultures and learn how to work with them? Get in touch with Chris at or write him an email at [email protected].


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