Rethinking cultural learning in education abroad

Rethinking cultural learning in education abroad

Increasingly, education abroad professionals are being asked to articulate their learning outcomes, design their programmes to realise those outcomes, and provide evidence that these learning outcomes are being realised by their students. One of the most frequently mentioned outcomes is cultural learning, which can take many forms. In this blog we take a look at how cultural learning can be nurtured in a study abroad programme.

Cultural learning can take the form of culture specific knowledge and general knowledge, cultural self-awareness, culture learning skills, and intercultural development. Based on advances in theory, research, and programme design over the past 10–15 years, we now have a much better understanding of how cultural learning in education abroad can be successfully facilitated.

Intercultural development

The concept of intercultural development (ICD) (M. Bennett, 1993) is fundamental in intercultural education and training. ICD is defined as the increasing ability to shift perspective, cognitively and behaviourally, to another culture. Being able to do this enables a person to better understand, adapt to, and effectively work with persons and groups that are culturally different. Intercultural development includes acquiring new communication and interaction skills, new cultural knowledge, culture learning skills, and ultimately competence in working effectively across cultures.

Facilitating intercultural development: effective programme design

Education abroad experiences provide the opportunity for ICD. Theory and research over the past 15 years have questioned some of the earlier assumptions about how and why students learn ‘culture’ while abroad. The key assumption that deep immersion in another language and culture –of and by itself –is sufficient to bring about learning, is being shown to be inadequate. Rather, cognitive learning theory and empirical research shows that systematic reflection on intercultural experiences combined with cultural mentoring from an interculturally knowledgeable instructor, the provision of core cultural concepts, and immersion learning opportunities are core concepts of a model of programming that can bring about significantly greater intercultural development. The recently published volume, Student Learning Abroad by Michael Vande Berg, R. Michael Paige and Kris Hemming Lou, presents relevant theory, recent research, and programme examples that illustrate how the facilitation model on cultural learning works.

If you’re interested to learn more about this subject, take a look at the following presentation to discover more about facilitating cultural learning. This presentation comes from an EAIE Academy course in Birmingham, 15-17 April 2013.

By Ingrid Gehrke, Head of International Relations at FH JOANNEUM University of Applied Sciences in Austria and Michael Paige, Professor of International and intercultural education in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development at the University of Minnesota in the US.

Sign up for the upcoming EAIE Academy to learn more about the topic.