In an article presented at AECT this year entitled “Instructional Design in a Flat World” Dr. Russel Osguthorpe makes the point that in a world that is flattening (see Friedman, 2006), instructional design needs to change. Osguthorpe considers three important implications that the discipline of instructional design must consider as it moves forward: (1) changing metaphors, (2) cross-cultural competence, and (3) practice-based theory.

In the section on the need for more cross-cultural competence, Osguthorpe shares this interesting story:

“In the 1980s in cooperation with a foundation based in New York City, I began work on a long-term technology integration project in Beijing, China. At the commencement of the project, I had no understanding of Chinese culture or language. Knowing that I would return to Beijing many times, I became determined to learn something of their language and customs. At one point in the project, the foundation director in New York City called to ask if I would go to Beijing and meet with our counterparts to settle a misunderstanding. By that time I could converse in Chinese and was beginning to understand something of the culture. When I arrived in Beijing and met with the project manager, I could sense immediately that something was wrong. Only after prolonged conversation did he pull out the fax we had sent and pointing to it said, “We don’t agree with this, so we have decided to end the project.”

The fax he referred to was in our view a working document, but to our Chinese friends it was a final non-negotiable letter of agreement. I explained to him that this was simply an initial draft, open to revision—that if there were points he wanted to change, we could discuss those. When he understood that critical point, everything changed. Together we revised the letter of agreement, and the project continued as planned.”

Again and again is highlighted the need to be aware of each other’s cultural differences so that we do not unintentionally offend, or even distract and miscommunicate from what we are indeed trying to say.