Learning Design


Three Foundational Principals

This learning design is based on three foundational principals of effective learning. Failure makes learning possible. Stories make learning available. Reflection makes learning effective.

Learning is the process of creating, correcting, or refining the mental models we use to make sense of our world and solve problems. When something happens that we did not expect, we encounter a violation of our mental models. We are naturally motivated to try and understand what went wrong to account for this expectation failure and we make alterations in our mental models to avoid a similar failure in the future. When revised mental models help us to understand a new situation, we have learned from the experience. Thus, effective learning relies on useful expectation failure.

Mental models are only useful to us if we remember them when needed. One of the best ways to make them memorable is to convey them through interesting stories. Our own stories derived from our firsthand expectation failures are usually the easiest to remember, and this is what makes experiential learning-by-doing highly effective. We can also learn from the stories of others, particularly if these stories are vivid, surprising in some way, and useful to us in pursuit of a meaningful goal. Thus, learning is more available when embedded in good stories.

Our ability to apply what we have learned to solve new problems depends on our capacity to make sense of this new information and to understand where and when it is useful. This ability is greatly enhanced through deliberate, conscious reflection and active mental processing. Reflection that includes analysis of what happened and why, as well as conclusions and predictions about what might happen in differing circumstances will significantly increase the chances of a meaningful application. Thus, we can make learning more effective through focused, targeted reflection.

Issues Addressed in This Learning Experience

The performance issue this learning experience addresses is a failure to overcome cross-cultural conflicts between Japanese and Western individuals and organizations. A majority of learners are aware of cross-cultural differences in general; however, they often struggle to recognize situations in their day-to-day lives where these differences are present. When aware, they often fail to recognize possible consequences. And when aware of a conflict, they often struggle to diagnose, plan, and implement solutions effectively.

Our culture is embedded in our automatic non-conscious cognitive processes and remains largely outside of our conscious awareness. We absorb cultural influences from an early age, though we have no conscious memory of doing so. Culture is deeply ingrained in our mental models of the world and is active in shaping our thoughts and actions without our conscious awareness, even when these thoughts and actions result from deliberate, conscious thought.

There are two primary cognitive goals for this learning experience. The first is to train the non-conscious mind to be alert to threatening situations that frequently lead to cross-cultural problems. Once alerted, the second goal is to equip the conscious mind to engage, diagnose, formulate plans and take action to counter these threats.


This learning experience is built upon a realistic story in book format, in which the reader accompanies the main character on a journey that begins with an emotionally charged expectation failure and motivation to understand what has gone wrong. The main character interacts with a mentor character and together they consider a range of cases to help the main character better understand common cross-cultural conflict, possible causes, and workable solutions.

The core competency this learning experience addresses is cross-cultural perspective taking, or the ability to see a situation from the perspective of someone with a different cultural background. Specifically, this learning experience enables Japanese learners to understand a situation from a Western businessperson’s point of view. Both cognitive perspective taking (recognizing the other party’s thoughts and beliefs) and affective perspective taking (recognizing the other party’s feelings and emotions) are addressed. Cross-cultural perspective taking is complex and multifaceted. It requires several key competencies as subsets of the whole. These include knowledge of the other culture, cultural self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and other interpersonal skills.

Cultural knowledge is addressed through a framework of contrasts in workplace culture that underlie many common workplace problems, e.g., think as individual (Western) vs. think as part of team (Japanese); need to be fast, efficient, concise (Western) vs. need to be careful, thorough, precise (Japanese). These contrasts are intended to serve as helpful prototypes to aid the learner. These contrasts are applied with the recognition that the way people think and act is highly context-dependent and will vary person-to-person, organization-to-organization, and case-to-case. However, within this target audience of learners and the common issues they encounter, there is enough consistency for these contrasts to create a practical method of organizing and understanding these differences and how they lead to common problems. The purpose of these contrasts is not to be memorized and applied as unconditional truths. Instead, they are presented as propensities and predispositions to be applied as heuristics or rules of thumb.

This learning experience brings key elements of the learner’s culture from the non-conscious to the conscious mind to be examined and better understood. Introspection alone is usually ineffective and sometimes counterproductive to this purpose. Therefore, this process of making the non-conscious conscious is achieved by examining the evidence we can observe: how we react to a situation, how we behave, and how others react to our behavior.

The complex process of cross-cultural perspective taking is made clearer by breaking it down into smaller steps. This begins with a cross-cultural interaction and examination of how the learners think and feel in that situation. It is natural for learners to assume that the other party will have similar impressions of a situation, care about the same issues, and think and react similarly. This is the beginning point to assess cross-cultural aspects. Learners reference the framework of cultural contrasts and consider the implications of culture to understand what is important to them and why they think and feel the way they do. Learners then consider the perspective of the Western party and draw on the contrasts to predict what is important to the other party, why, and what the other party thinks and feels in that situation. Learners assess situations in which two or more cultural contrasts may be active at once in shaping the other party’s perspective, thereby analyzing situations at a level of complexity common in these real-world interactions. This process of perspective taking is the basis for assessing the potential of a cross-cultural problem and what adjustment could solve the problem.

Chapters conclude with self-reflection and self-analysis sections that engage the learners to personalize the story. Learners consider their own impressions and reactions to the cases presented in the story. They practice recognizing, diagnosing, planning, and acting to counter or prevent problems. They are led to recall and reevaluate their own similar cases. As these problems are common, many learners will have experiences themselves that can be recalled, reconsidered and newly recognized as relevant to the cross-cultural conflict. This reinterpreting of existing cases is a key step leading many learners to experience insight through new interpretations of past experiences. Learners compare and contrast cases and evaluate their usefulness in diagnosing other situations. This expands the learner’s base of relevant cases and makes explicit the process of case matching and indexing, and turns utilizing a base of cases into a conscious activity.

The reinterpreting of the learner’s own past cases often produces an emotional feeling of fear in learners as they reflect on past experiences and worry that their behavior created negative impressions that led to negative consequences of which they were unaware. The cases presented often lead to other emotional reactions such as surprise and anger. These emotional responses serve to make the learning experience more memorable and facilitate embedding cases in memory for future use.

Cases include examples of how people with different cultural backgrounds will attend to different aspects of the same situation. They include examples of how quickly and easily people can form biases. Cases are considered from a variety of perspectives; e.g., Japanese vs. Western, actor vs. observer, superior vs. subordinate.

Cases take place in typical workplace situations. Where appropriate, cases occur in recognizable scenarios or scripts, e.g., a brainstorming session or a goal-setting meeting. Learners often assume that Japanese and Western colleagues share similar expectations for these common scenarios; however, it is frequently the case that Japanese and Western business culture follow different scripts with different expectations. In some examples, Japanese business culture may lack any appropriate script. With a mismatch in expectations, these situations easily lead to common cross-cultural problems. Therefore, in addition to analyzing each case in terms of the cultural differences underlying them, learners consider differing scripts in typical workplace situations as a setting for potential conflict. By addressing both cultural differences and differing scripts, learners are given two methods for the non-conscious mind to recognize threatening situations by being alert to either the differences that frequently cause problems or to scripts in which problems commonly occur.

The mentor character employs a step-by-step process to consider the adjustment in behavior that can fix or prevent conflict. This process considers any skill or practice that is required. Most importantly it introduces an evaluation of the learner’s willingness to accept and implement the adjustment.

Book chapters include a list of phrases by a Western manager that depict typical Western business culture. These are not specifically about the characters or situations in the book but instead, serve as a window into typical Western thinking. These phrases reinforce key points and become a reference for review.

Learners take away performance support tools comprised of five components to assist in applying the course content to their daily lives:

-    list of cultural differences that frequently cause problems

-    step-by-step process for cross-cultural perspective taking

-    step-by-step process to consider and implement solutions

-    list of common scripts with key Western expectations

-    collection of phrases by a Western manager that review key points and depict typical Western business culture

Recommendations for Future Learning

Appropriate goals for future practice and learning would be updating and improving the cases and mental models at the learner’s disposal and practice to become better and faster at analyzing situations. It should be noted that the cognitive goals for this learning experience do not include an effort to embed the right answer to a problem so that it will be automatically retrieved and applied without conscious attention. That degree of intuitive expertise in tasks this complex is outside the scope of this learning experience. In future learning and in actual performance, particularly when the response is important, the goal should remain the same: to slow down, focus attention, search memory, evaluate, plan, and produce a considered response.

Facilitated Companion Course 

(Facilitator's Guide Coming Soon)

A facilitated companion course builds upon the book with the same primary goals of keeping the non-conscious mind alert to threats and equipping the conscious mind to diagnose and counter them. The course provides practice and feedback via simulations set in authentic workplace scenarios. These simulations give the learner a high level of learning-by-doing engagement to practice recognizing, diagnosing, and overcoming conflict. Learners are engaged in the pursuit of a goal. The scenario and the goal are realistic and match or are similar to situations and goals the learner is likely to encounter in real life. Accomplishing the goal requires the learner to practice a range of integrated skills that mirror the context learners’ face in the real world. Simulations practice sets of skills rather than teaching sets of facts. Learners are learning-by-doing, gaining experience, creating stories, revising mental models, and building integrated skills and knowledge in ways that promote future retrieval and application in the real world.

Guided reflection considers learners’ perceptions and understanding of cases in the simulations, in the book, and most importantly, from the learners’ own past experiences. Learners consciously practice case-matching and indexing by comparing and contrasting cases and articulating which cases are most useful in making decisions. Further reflection addresses the learners’ feelings and willingness to adjust behavior in pursuit of their broader goals.