chinausaflags_ows.jpg(Marco is a native of Hong Kong, China. He was an executive with FedEx for twenty years, and completed two expatriate assignments as Managing Director for Asia Pacific and General Manager, China. He acquired his training knowledge as Managing Director/Preceptor at FedEx Leadership Institute.)

Recently, I participated in conversations with several Western training professionals about their experience in conducting training in China. These training professionals are effective trainers in the United States, and they are now conducting corporate training programs in their business units in China. These training professionals are aiming to implement universal practices across their business and gain compliance of company policies and procedures.

When asked, the participants evaluated the training programs and delivery as excellent; but despite this rating, the trainers all believed that the participants may not have actually learned what to do with the information. The following scenarios often occur in training programs in China and make Western training professionals question the efficacy of the training program.

  • When the trainer tries to facilitate the class and engage the participants, no one volunteers to provide any thought or input.
  • When the trainer explains the concept or the learnings, the trainer notices that the participants take down notes furiously.
  • When participants are asked questions to confirm their understanding of what was said, very rarely do participants volunteer to answer, but when called on, the participant looks at his or her notes, and repeats verbatim what the trainer said.
  • When participants are asked to demonstrate a point with some examples, the class goes totally silent.
  • When the trainer asks participants if they had any questions, there are none.

While these scenarios may seem to indicate a lack of engagement or even understanding of the material, that is not the case. I found it necessary to explain to the Western training professionals that the past and current education system and learning experience of the average Chinese in China produces these results in the classroom setting. In the typical Chinese classroom:

  • The teacher does all the talking, and the students take copious notes.
  • The teacher does not encourage questions from the students. Those students who do ask questions are generally viewed as ‘troublemakers”.
  • Students are rarely asked to actively participate or make any presentation in the class at all.
  • Tests and examinations are conducted frequently, and multiple-choice questions are not generally used. Most of the time, if a student can answer the questions exactly how the teacher explained, a high score is rewarded.

Even in universities, students learn from reading information that is already published and available. Few classroom discussions take place among students. Students spend the majority of their time conducting their own research, and fortunately for them, the Internet has enabled them to gain information from many sources with different perspectives. But this method of learning has impacted how Chinese students behave in a classroom or learning environment.

Western training professionals must understand a few key aspects of the Chinese culture in order to create and facilitate effective training programs. The Chinese culture in general values and emphasizes a respect for hierarchy, humility, and self-control. It’s also a shame-based culture, and saving face is taken very seriously. Subsequently, Chinese tend to rarely question someone in authority, such as a teacher or an instructor. They tend to look inward, keep their opinion to themselves, and in general do not freely respond to offer their own opinion. They also tend to avoid answering any questions because they do not want to be wrong, and subsequently lose face.

With this new understanding of Chinese culture in mind, I offer the following suggestions to Western training professionals conducting training programs in China:

  • Send the training material to the participants in advance so they can study on their own and identify questions beforehand.
  • Incorporate testing in the training program, and review the results in order to debrief.
  • Design “application” tests to validate learning. Preferably, these tests are conducted one-on-one, not in the group setting.
  • If you want the participants to contribute to a group discussion, make sure the group contains participants of the same rank. In addition, ask the group to make a group presentation afterwards.
  • When posing questions, make them apply to a ‘hypothetical situation’. A discussion of ‘theory’ generally does not get personal, and the discussion will be more fruitful as a result.

These tips will help both the participant and trainer feel that the training program is both successful and effective.

To learn more about Marco’s work or request more information, CLICK HERE to contact us. 

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