Utilizing Learner Knowledge in Cross-Culture Management Education: Beneath the Visible Teaching Pyramid

Utilizing Learner Knowledge in Cross-Culture Management Education: Beneath the Visible Teaching Pyramid

David Starr-Glass
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3776-2.ch007
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In many business schools, the cross-culture management course has become a central response to the increasingly globalized and internationalized world in which graduates will work. The core content, pedagogic assumptions, and anticipated learner outcomes of this course have changed over the last two decades, moving from the passive transmission of national culture knowledge to more active and responsive knowledge-creation that might better serve students in approaching cross-culture management challenges. In restructuring his cross-culture management course, the present author reflected on these shifts and on the national culture richness of the envisaged students. This chapter explores ways of utilizing the informal cultural learning and tacit national culture knowledge of course participants to create a learning experience that might be more useful for students who will engage in the international organizational and corporate world of the twenty-first century.
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It is evident that globalization provokes different, contradictory, and polarizing reactions. For some, particularly in global and multinational corporations, it has been greeted with much enthusiasm. For others, especially in the older sectors of domestic manufacturing, it has been accepted with considerable reservation. In America, the UK, and a number of EU countries there has been significant populist sentiment against the increased migration and shifting national identity consequences of globalization. In the same countries, there has been growing political pressure to limit—if not to cease, or reverse—what are seen as the disruptive economic, trade, and societal outcomes of globalization. The campaign rhetoric of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the subsequent enactments of the new administration, the Brexit referendum in the UK, and the significant rise of populist and EU-skeptic political parties in France, Germany, Greece, and Holland are all cases in point. However, whatever the responses and whatever its future, the reality is that globalization has significantly and perhaps irreversibly impacted all market participants and economic players over the last twenty-five years.

Globalization is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon, broadly defined as “the flow of technology, economy, knowledge, people, values, [and] ideas…across borders…[that] affects each country in a different way due to a nation’s individual history, traditions, culture and priorities” (Knight & de Wit, 1997, p. 6). Globalization has undoubtedly resulted in the free flow of economic goods, services, and information even though that flow is often unidirectional and favors one country at the expense of others. In a more limited and problematic ways, globalization has also contributed to the flow of individuals. For many, globalization has challenged traditional sovereign borders and a personal sense of national identity in ways that are as unwelcome as they are disruptive. However, in the world of business, one of the main outcomes of globalization has been to produce a new polycentric world that requires an equally new awareness of economic power redistributions and the cultivation of deeper understandings of local difference in markets, consumers, and managerial approaches (Åkerman, 2015; Mittleman, 2013).

This new polycentric world has also had an impact on U.S. higher education. Knight (1999) suggests that “globalization can be thought of as the catalyst while internationalization is the response, albeit a response in a proactive way” (p. 14). As part of that proactive response, many business schools have devoted considerable effort and resources to the internationalization of their curricula. They have tried to ensure that their graduates are made aware of the newly globalized contexts they will encounter and possess the relevant competencies to interact with them. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business has called for authentic global academies and global business schools to produce “greater competence and confidence of graduates for doing business with global impact…more research insights into the global complexity of the managers, enterprises, and markets studied; and…ultimately better service of the global management profession” (AACSB, 2011, p. 7). Others have urged U.S. higher education to embrace a strategy of comprehensive internationalization and to adopt a “commitment, confirmed through action, to infuse international and comparative perspectives throughout the teaching, research, and service missions of higher education…[as] an institutional imperative, not just a desirable possibility” (Hudzik, 2011, p. 10).

However, the infusion of international perspectives is often less than perfect and there has been considerable criticism about the extent to which many business schools realistically equip their students with the skills, competencies, and responsibilities required in the 21stcentury (Currie et al., 2106; Mingers, 2015; Murillo & Vallentin, 2016). In particular, criticism has been leveled at how these schools teach international business and how they prepare graduates to engage effectively in a globalized and culturally diverse world (Kedia & Englis, 2011; Jain, 2009).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Culture: A set of discernible assumptions, attitudes, conceptualizations, and values possessed by members of a specific group that is considered important enough to be actively transmitted to the next generation through socialization and communication involving symbols, narratives, stories, and a recalled past.

Global Mindset: This is an informed and expansive appreciation of the inherent diversity and culturally mediated forces that characterize international markets, organizations, and strategies. A global mindset allows participants in international contexts to move beyond the limits of their pre-existing behavior and ethnocentric thinking and to function effectively with the difference and diversity that they encounter.

Cross-Culture Management Course: An educational experience, central in many business schools, designed to sensitize students to the existence of national cultural difference and its implications and impact on management and organizational practice. Originally centered on imparting knowledge of difference, the cross-culture management course is now considered by many as a key learning opportunity for facilitating intercultural communication, developing comparative international leadership skills, promoting global management competencies, and engendering a global mindset among participants.

Variation Theory: The provision of sufficient difference between two examples to allow learners to make comparisons, contrasts, and generalizations. Variation provides learners with the opportunity to identify distinctiveness and to retain this in situations of complexity. Variation theory suggests that learning is linked to the ability of progressively accommodating difference through a process of discernment.

Tacit Knowledge: The unarticulated and usually unconsidered knowledge that individuals acquire through their life-experiences, observations, and social interactions. Although tacit knowledge permeates the life and behavior of individuals, it is normally taken for granted and not expressly communicated to others. It forms an underlying framework and structure through which explicit knowledge is developed.

Globalization: The ongoing world-wide trend towards increased economic, financial, and trade integration across national boundaries. Globalization (a) recognizes the need for a relaxation of exclusively nation-centered and self-serving policies and perspectives; (b) responds to a reconsideration of a world economy that is increasingly interconnected and interdependent; and (c) promotes the unimpeded flow of labor, goods, and services in ways that enhance the growth and development of the global community without unduly harming individual members of that community.

National Culture: A distinctive set of beliefs, values, and assumptions that are generally held by members of a national group. National culture difference can be expressed as values on a number of dimensions: power-distance, masculinity-femininity, individualism-collectivism, and uncertainty-avoidance. These dimensions can be quantified and provide country-specific profiles. It is important to remember that: (a) scores on these dimensions are statistical averages, with considerable individual variance and overlap with other national cultures; and (b) while national profiles are useful in understanding the behavior in another national culture, they should not be used to pre-judge or stereotype others.

Implied Student: In activities such as developing the curriculum, designing courses, and conducting assessment, educators do not deal with actual students; instead, they make their decisions based on hypothetical representations of students that are socially-constructed and culturally-derived. There is always a mismatch between the implied and the actual student; however, in times of rapidly changing demographics and social patterns this mismatch can be substantial, leading to inappropriate and ineffective decision-making.

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