East, to the Land of the Rising Sun

Konnichiwa, E-Learning Curvers,

Tomorrow, I’m travelling to Japan. I’m going to the Tokyo Institute of Technology to deliver a certified training course on IT capability management in early March, so the likelihood that I’ll have time to update the E-Learning Curve Blog is pretty low; microblogging is probably on the agenda though. Image courtesy http://phys.org

It’s my first time to visit Japan, and I’m very much looking forward to my visit. I’ll be staying quite near the Imperial Palace, so I hope I’ve time to visit that particular monument, and I (might) just be able to experience the Cherry Blossom Season – fingers crossed. 

With my ‘professional education’ hat on, I’ve trained people onsite in many parts of the world, and even more via digitally-intermediated training interventions, both synchronously, and asynchronously. So, at this point in my career as a professional educator I’m confident that I understand the social protocols and cultural nuances required to facilitate training & education for learners in the UK, Europe, North America, Australia New Zealand, and South East Asia (remind me sometime to blog about how to manage classes in different parts of the world – i could tell some stories…). I’m looking forward to leading training sessions in situ with learners from such a different culture to those I’ve worked with before.

As I prepare for this trip, one of the texts I’m reading is The Rice-Paper Ceiling: Breaking through Japanese Corporate Culture by Rochelle Kopp. She has some interesting insights into the skills required to present to a Japanese audience:

Westerners’ communications are much more explicit and verbal than Japanese. She references  a Japanese saying: "say one, understand 10," to emphasise the Japanese style of relying on shared experiences and information and nonverbal clues to convey meaning. That is enhanced because of Japan’s tradition of lifetime employment, where many of a company’s employees work together for years.

As the course I’ will deliver is strongly influenced by Social Constructivist theory (group exercises and activities, peer-based learning, sharing of experiences, and building knowledge, behaviour and skill artefacts in the classroom context etc), In this sense, I intend to use the training modality as a social experiment: my thesis is that while the manifestations of culture may be different between Japan and the West, the underlying motivations and experiences are universal, rather than culturally-mediated, so the approach I use to training should reflect these universal human needs. 

Kopp asserts that the nonverbal communication approach also applies to giving instruction. For example, a Japanese technical adviser would demonstrate how to operate a piece of technology rather than describing the steps required to use it. According to Kopp, this can be perceived negatively by Westerners as it may imply incompetence (particularly for high-value technical or knowledge workers who pride themselves in either already having high levels of proficiency, or who ‘learn by doing’ (mistakes included).

She also gives several tips for training Japanese learners:

  • Ask enough questions to be sure they understand fully
  • In giving presentations, use plenty of graphs and other visual aids
  • Pace your narrative at a slower rate, pause longer than in Western contexts before answering questions.

Discovery awaits…


Kopp, R. (2000). The Rice-Paper Ceiling: Breaking through Japanese Corporate Culture. Stone Bridge Press, Berkley, CA