Understanding Cultures Through MOOCs


How I used MOOCs to understand different cultures and to broaden my knowledge.

‘Globalization’ is a popular word. Yet, few have a clear idea about what it requires to develop a truly globalized mindset. As businesses continue to grow and expand across the globe and the world becomes more interconnected, working with different cultures has become a critical skill. Understanding different cultures can be difficult and a lack of understanding may result in confusion, cancellation of business deals and cross-cultural miscommunications.

Let me share my perspective on how one can try to develop a globalized mindset, an open-minded view, by learning with MOOCs and then practicing those skills in live situations.

Break negative perceptions by keeping an open mind.

In August 2009, I was preparing to pursue a master’s degree in Denmark. I had always lived in India until that time and was not very aware of the social norms of Denmark or any other country for that matter.

I had some preconceived perceptions due to differences between eastern and western culture. I started to browse the Internet to read more about this country I would be moving to. Surprisingly, many of the accounts of other foreigners who lived in Denmark presented a negative picture, which contradicted the country’s high survey rankings in so many areas (human development index, social welfare etc.).

I decided to make an effort to know people and understand more about this new place during my two and a half year stay in Denmark. Keeping an open mind, I was able to understand the cultural differences more easily and adapt to local situations. At the end of my stay, I found a lot of the preconceived perceptions I had heard to be completely untrue. If I had not kept an open mind and just went along with a pre-determined idea based on biased information, I would have missed out on many interesting and rewarding experiences.
So, why does one have to study culture? And, how can one learn it?

But, what if you are not living abroad? Why care or study other cultures? In today’s interconnected world the Internet in many ways has celebrated the death of distance; organizations are becoming country-less (virtually), and people can more easily remain in touch with friends from different parts of the world.

Although there is no single way to look at culture—it encompasses so much—in my view a combination of study (history, geography, festivals, economic conditions, likes & dislikes, local customs, social structure, etc.) can make one more culturally sensitive even without living in that place.

In May 2012, when I started my ‘Envisioning 21st Century Global Manager’ project, I made understanding different cultures my top priority. This was an independent project I designed using MOOCs to help grow my knowledge and skill-set. As it was not possible for me to go all the different places in the world I wanted to visit, MOOCs became a big help in understanding people from various geographies.

Let me share my journey of learning about China with the help of the China courses on edx.org.

Why learn about China?

China is home to 20% of the world population, and, according to some economist, it will become the largest economy in the world by the end of this decade. Considering the shifts in the global economic balance, any person who is aiming to work on a global scale should learn more about China overall. With its rich culture and glorious history, China offers a lot more than just economic might and uncovering those hidden treasures inspired me to study more about this country.
How MOOCS helped me learn.

There is very little coverage of China in Indian newspapers and generally it is focused on economic, political or defense sectors leaving Chinese culture completely aside. To learn more, I turned to the Internet and MOOCs.

My search finally ended in October 2013, when I found the China courses on edx.org offered by HarvardX. Although, it is a long series, I enrolled from the second module onwards and am continuing my learning journey today!

These courses have taught me many hidden treasures of Chinese culture, like calligraphy, poetry and historical writing, to name a few. Ancient architecture, silk trade route, court politics and taxation policies of ruling dynasties are all new additions to my knowledge. I have also witnessed the intellectual foundations of China while studying Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. Knowing these aspects helped me to better understand Chinese culture and society.

There is an active Facebook group that shares a range of ideas and discussions every day. It includes documentaries, movies, series and other recent events in China and has helped boost my knowledge and bettered my learning experience.

MOOCs made it possible for me to access information easily and expand my knowledge. I am excited to have taken full advantage of this opportunity to learn more about China through the China series.

(Originally appeared on edx.org, blog on 29.08.2014)


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