Why E-learning and Intercultural Management are a Bad Match

[4-min read]

Everything tends to move online. We buy our books online, we do our groceries online, we book our tickets ourselves and even certain forms of training have taken on the shape of e-learning. Effective for some topics; in my eyes less effective for other topics.

Of course, I think that becoming culturally competent is not something you can learn from or on a machine. So for me, E-learning and intercultural management do not go hand in hand.

I get the request, that if I have some sort of e-learning or online learning on my website Culture Matters,  not that often. But every now and then a potential client does ask me.

Below are 6 reasons why intercultural management or becoming culturally competent should not be given in the form of e-learning.

“People can live with the What if they know they Why”.

E-learning and Intercultural Management. A Contact Sport?

Just like sales or selling (whatever it is you’re selling), dealing with people from different cultures is a “contact sport“. You’re dealing with people, individuals, who, because of their face-to-face contact (and this can also be remote in different locations) are experiencing difficulties that nine out of ten can be attributed to cultural differences.


There are very few situations in human interaction identical to each other. The consequence of that is that it is virtually impossible to capture every situation in an e-learning form. The second item where e-learning falls short of real in-class training is context. Often, when the context changes, the situation changes as well, and the way you competently deal with another culture changes as well.

Again, e-learning and intercultural management cannot capture that.

E-learning and Intercultural Management

Do’s and Don’t’s?

From what I have seen in the field of e-learning, the e-learning programs do not go much deeper than indicating do’s and don’ts. “In this situation, you do this; in that situation, you do something else.” But the world and the people in it are infinitely more complex than only looking at the do’s and don’ts. In addition, do’s and don’ts tend to change when the context changes. See the previous point.

People ≠ Monkeys

People are not monkeys who you should learn a couple of tricks (mostly do’s and don’ts) and then they’re good to go and be culturally competent. No. People often want and need to know why something is what it is.

It’s along the lines of “People can live with the What if they know the Why”.

Strawberries and Swimming

For me, cultural competence training is a face-to-face activity. A people thing. Think about it this way: How well would you be able to swim if you only read a book about swimming? Not a lot. You might know the moves theoretically. But as soon as you get in the water, things change completely.

Another example would be to read about the taste of strawberries without ever tasting one. That simply doesn’t make sense.

Together or Separate

The last point I want to make here is that the concept of e-learning is often done individually. While, when you’re in a classroom setting, you will benefit from the interaction, group dynamics, and knowledge that other people will bring to the table.

I hope I’ve been able to convince you that cultural competency training is best done in real-time with and between real people. Not through a machine.

An article on why Culture should matter also for you and your company can be found here.

And should you want to read an article on so-called global talent sourcing, read this article.

How different cultures learn differently is explained in this article.

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