Expanding Our Borders

By Kristin Ekkens, MA

Last week in the IAACE blog Kevin Hunter so eloquently explained the “WHY” behind adult education as it relates to ROI and adult learner motivation. He asked us to “dig deeper to find other words that get us to the real why and the real driving force behind a student’s persistence.” In sales, those who have studied the Sandler Method would say we are digging to define the “Pain” or “emotion” beneath the surface. Click here for some great questions to ask to dig deeper that apply to sales as well as adult education.

Kevin also asked us, “Why are you here? Why do you teach, direct, or provide general support for adult education?” Today I’d like to briefly provide my “Why” and also share an excellent resource.

My first experience teaching adult learners was in the migrant camps of Sparta, Michigan. I was going to college full-time and teaching English in the evenings. Little did I know this part-time position, and a few study abroad experiences, would spark a passion and lifelong personal mission. Why did I teach English in the migrant camps? My “surface pain” at the time was to pay for college tuition, rent, and food.

My deeper pain was and is this: I want to help people fulfill that basic human need to belong – no matter the nationality, gender, ethnicity, race, economic status, age, religion, social status, etc.

For migrant workers, refugees, and immigrants just coming to the states, this need is acute. I fulfilled my “why” while helping these individuals get the language, literacy, and employability skills they needed to obtain and keep a good job. This applies not only to language learners, but to all adult learners who are seeking to obtain the essential skills necessary to hold down a good job.

While directing a workplace English program from 2004 to 2010, I realized there was a gap, a gap that was preventing our adult learners from progressing in their careers or better integrating into their companies even as their skills improved. This gap was causing a clear divide, “us” versus “them”.

Teacher vs. Student.
Supervisor vs. Worker.
Adult Learner vs. Adult Education Provider.

This gap was deeper than language or literacy challenges — but very closely related to them.

Can you guess it? Yes, a cultural gap.

As you know, in adult education we work with individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Over last few the years I’ve asked myself the following questions:

• Do our students’ cultural backgrounds affect how they view our teaching methods, assessments, curriculum, and even the technology we use?
• If we have a better understanding of how cultural values impact behavior, would our programs have a better ROI?
• Would our instruction be more effective?
• Would our learners reach their goals more effectively and efficiently?

I would argue yes to all the above.

Digging even deeper we should ask ourselves “Why is it that some people seem extremely comfortable interacting with others who come from different cultures, while others seem like a fish out of water?” (Livermore, 2013).

This question is the foundation of research on cultural intelligence, or CQ, the capability to function effectively across any culture (Livermore, 2013). What the researchers have found is that some people are culturally intelligent — that is, they have the gift of effectively interacting and working with people from diverse cultures. For example, adult educators with high CQ learn how to adapt their teaching, assessments, and feedback strategies when working with students from various cultural backgrounds. They are able to ask the right questions at the right time and in the right manner to dig deeper and find the real driving force behind our students’ persistence.

The researchers also found that cultural intelligence isn’t a natural born trait. It’s a set of capabilities that most anyone can develop and learn. These capabilities are: Drive, Knowledge, Strategy, and Action (Livermore, 2013). Since 2012 I’ve had the pleasure to partner closely with the Cultural Intelligence Center and its president who is one of the lead researchers and authors in the field, Dr. David Livermore. In one of his most recent books, Expand Your Borders: Discover Ten Cultural Clusters (2013), Dr. Livermore provides a compilation of the most important information for improving your CQ Knowledge—your understanding of key cultural similarities and differences.

I highly recommend this book. It provides you with a macro comparison of the most significant cultural similarities and differences you’ll encounter as you travel across today’s multicultural environment—at home and abroad. My favorite part about the book are the real-life examples. Dr. Livermore writes in such a way that it’s hard to put the book down. It is rooted in academic research, but comes to life with his personal examples and lessons learned.

My challenge to you: Are you willing to work to improve your CQ to better serve your adult learners?

Thanks for reading my rambles! It’s been a pleasure getting to know some of you over the last few years at the Summer Institute. Stay warm!

Kristin Ekkens, MA TESOL
C3 Consulting LLC

Kristin Ekkens is founder & CEO of C3 Consulting LLC. She provides learning solutions that help multinational companies achieve their goals by developing a culturally intelligent workforce. Kristin’s areas of expertise include cultural intelligence, essential skills for the workplace, workplace/business English, and workplace learning and performance. Kristin is the 2013 Chair-elect for TESOL International’s English for Specific Purposes Interest Section (ESPIS). She has an MA in TESOL and is a certified Cultural Intelligence (CQ) facilitator through the Cultural Intelligence Center (USA).

To find out more, visit her website, www.c3-consulting.com.