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A Simulation-Based Approach to Training Operational 

Cultural Competence 


Dr. W. Lewis Johnson 

Alelo, Inc. 

ljohnson@alelo. com 

Abstract. Cultural knowledge and skills are critically important for military operations, emergency response, or any 
job that involves interaction with a culturally diverse population. However, it is not obvious what cultural knowledge 
and skills need to be trained, and how to integrate that training with the other training that trainees must undergo. 
Cultural training needs to be broad enough to encompass both regional (culture-specific) and cross-cultural (culture- 
general) competencies, yet be focused enough to result in targeted improvements in on-the-job performance. This 
paper describes a comprehensive instructional development methodology and training technology framework that 
focuses cultural training on operational needs. It supports knowledge acquisition, skill acquisition, and skill transfer. 
It supports both training and assessment, and integrates with other aspects of operational skills training. Two training 
systems will be used to illustrate this approach: the Virtual Cultural Awareness Trainer (VCAT) and the Tactical Dari 
language and culture training system. The paper also discusses new and emerging capabilities that are integrating 
cultural competence training more strongly with other aspects of training and mission rehearsal. 


1. INTRODUCTION 

There is a growing awareness of the need for 
intercultural knowledge and skills across a wide range 
of disciplines. Recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and 
other countries have highlighted the importance of 
cultural issues in 21 st century military operations [14]. 
Multicultural workplaces, health care and educational 
settings, and emergency response teams are just some of 
the other contexts in which intercultural knowledge and 
skills have been found to be important [5], [10], [15], 
[16], [17]. 

This need for intercultural knowledge and skills poses a 
significant training challenge. Experts in the language 
education community, such as the American Council on 
the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), 
commonly assert that true cultural competence arises 
only after years of immersion in the target culture, as 
part of a language education program [13]. 
Unfortunately, relatively few specialists get the 
opportunity to devote that much time to cultural 
training. For example, many service members deploying 
to Iraq and Afghanistan get just a few hours of cultural 
awareness training, and some get none at all [9]. 

This paper describes a simulation-based approach to 
cultural competency training realized in the Alelo 
family of training products. It is intended to help 
trainees who may not be cultural specialists quickly 
develop cultural skills they need to be effective in 
intercultural settings. This includes the knowledge and 
skills necessary to handle common intercultural 
interactions, as well as the adaptability needed to cope 
with unexpected intercultural interactions. Crucially, it 
utilizes simulations of intercultural situations that 
trainees are likely to encounter in the course of carrying 
out their jobs or missions, which helps trainees develop 
the skills and confidence necessary to apply 
intercultural skills in those situations. The approach also 
supports the assessment of cultural competence by 
testing trainees in simulated intercultural encounters. 


Although intercultural skill is an important outcome of 
this training, it is not the only desired outcome. 
Researchers in cross-cultural competence such as Abbe, 
et al. [2], have argued that intercultural competence has 
knowledge and affective components as well as skill 
components, and that all three should be promoted in 
culturally competent individuals. Therefore, the Alelo 
training method does not rely solely on simulations, but 
integrates simulation-based training with multimedia 
instruction and affective elements, employed in a 
coordinated fashion to help trainees develop robust 
intercultural competence. 

We have developed a cultural analysis and instructional 
design methodology, called the Situated Culture 
Methodology (SCM), which facilitates the creation of 
training courses that utilize this approach. SCM focuses 
sociocultural data collection and instructional design on 
situations that trainees are most likely to encounter in 
the context of their work activities. This provides a 
necessary focus to the cultural training. Cultural training 
courses can have a tendency to turn into a litany of facts 
about the target culture — of interest to the cultural 
specialist, but of questionable value to the ordinary 
intercultural practitioner. SCM focuses on culture 
relevant to the job or mission context, resulting in 
training that is more coherent and effective in achieving 
its intended learning outcomes. 

This approach has been employed to develop a variety 
of Alelo training courses, such as the Tactical Language 
family of language and culture training courses [8] and 
the Virtual Cultural Awareness Trainer (VCAT) [4]. 
Tens of thousands of trainees have made use of these 
courses to date, with demonstrated positive impacts on 
cultural competence as well as overall operational 
effectiveness [11]. 

2. EXAMPLE TRAINING MATERIALS 

Two courses will serve as examples for following 
discussion: Tactical Dari and VCAT. Tactical Dari is a 
PC-based serious game that helps learners acquire 


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operational knowledge of the Dari language and Afghan 
culture. VCAT helps trainees develop pre-deployment 
cultural awareness of the Horn of Africa. Both provide 
training in language and cultural skills, although 
Tactical Dari places greater emphasis on language skills 
and VCAT puts greater emphasis on cultural awareness 
and operational cultural knowledge. 



Figure 1. Tactical Dari nonverbal interaction quiz 

Tactical Dari includes interactive lessons that focus on 
common skills relating to interpersonal interaction in a 
Dari-speaking context, such as greetings, introductions, 
arranging meetings. discussing business with 
counterparts, etc. The course addresses all aspects of 
interpersonal communication in such contexts, 
including appropriate forms of address, gestures and 
body language, and social norms for hospitality and 
relationship building in conducting business. These 
concepts are all taught in the context of interactive 
lessons and exercises. Figure 1 shows one such 
exercise. Here the learner is asked to identify 
appropriate gestures and body language for men 
greeting each other for the first time in Afghanistan. 

Tactical Dari then gives learners opportunities to 
practice their intercultural skills in simulated encounters 
with Afghans. Figure 2 shows such a simulated 
meeting. The player character, gesturing on the left, is 
leading a team engaged in discussions with the village 
leader and other elders (right) about collaborating on a 
reconstruction project. The trainee plays his role by 
speaking into a headset microphone in the Dari 
language and selecting appropriate gestures for his or 
her character. The built-in speech processing system 
interprets the trainee's speech in context and causes the 
non-player characters to generate socially and culturally 
appropriate responses. 

In order to succeed in a scene such as this, trainees must 
employ a wide range of cultural skills. For example, 
they should remember to introduce everyone in their 
team. They should inquire about the elder's family, but 
not in a way that causes embarrassment (e.g.. by 
inquiring inappropriately about female family 
members). They should make appropriate use of Dari 
phrases expressing respect and humility, at socially 
appropriate times. For example, they should make use 
of the Dari phrase /naame khudaa/ (Thanks be to God) 
in acknowledging the leader's good fortune as well as 


one’s own. Trainees thus learn not just to understand 



and recognize culturally appropriate behavior, but are 
able to practice until they become skilled at behaving 
the right way at the right times. 


Figure 2. Meeting with Afghan village elders 

VCAT is a Web-based training course, accessed via 
Joint Knowledge Online. When trainees start the course 
they indicate the particular country they will deploy to, 
their level of seniority, and the type of mission they are 
likely to undertake in the region. VCAT then 
automatically selects a tailored curriculum that focuses 
on their particular needs. 



Figure 3. VCAT culture-general feedback 



HoA range from 90* F to i06« F. 7h*s makes the region one of the 


Figure 4. Introduction to the physical environment 
in the Horn of Africa 


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At the start of the course trainees are given a general 
introduction to culture — what it is, and why it is 
important. They are also introduced to six general 
dimensions of culture: physical environment, social 
structure, political structure, economic structure, and 
cultural perspectives and practices. This provides 
learners with a conceptual framework for understanding 
culture and how it applies to their mission and activities 
in country. Figure 3 shows feedback from a quiz at the 
end of this section, where the learner is tested on these 
general cultural concepts. 

VCAT then introduces trainees to the culture of their 
region of interest. Like Tactical Dari, it includes lesson 
modules that introduce cultural concepts. These touch 
on the various dimensions of culture relevant to 
operations in the Horn of Africa. For example. Figure 4 
shows part of the course that introduces trainees to the 
physical environment of the Horn of Africa, particularly 
the hot climate. Climate is important in HO A in part 
because it affects when and how people work and 
conduct business. People are less likely to be available 
to work at the hottest times of the day. and offering and 
receiving drinks is an important aspect of hospitality 
when meeting with people in the region. 

As in Tactical Dari, trainees get opportunities to 
practice their cultural skills in immersive simulations. 
Trainees are not required to speak in the local language 
on behalf of their avatar, but they are required to make 
choices in the context of the situation, and thereby 
become skilled at behaving appropriately in that 
situation. Figure 5 illustrates one such scenario. Here 
the trainee character (right) is engaged in a meeting 
with the local health minister to discuss a mission to 
deliver medical supplies. The minister has offered the 
trainee water to drink, and the trainee must decide 
whether to accept it. The trainee must consider the 
health risks of drinking water that may be contaminated, 
the health risks of not drinking fluids in such a hot 
climate, as well as the risk of offending the health 
minister by declining the offer. Such situations require 
trainees to apply their cultural knowledge in complex 
situations where multiple factors are involved. Thus 
they are more likely to be prepared when they are 
required to put their cultural skills into practice. 



Figure 5. Practicing cultural skills 


3. THE SITUATED CULTURE 
METHODOLOGY 

A key challenge in developing such culture courses is 
determining what cultural information is relevant to the 
trainee's needs and presenting it appropriately. Cultural 
literacy approaches (e.g.. [3]) tend to present a range of 
facts about the culture, but do not give much 
consideration to which of those facts might be relevant 
to trainees and contribute to useful intercultural skills. 
Cultures are rich and varied, and so descriptions of a 
given culture can easily become very large and wide- 
ranging. An effective cultural training approach needs 
to take cultural information, which may be interesting in 
its own right from an anthropological perspective, and 
focus on the material most relevant to trainee needs in 
specific contexts. 

Military approaches to teaching culture, such as the 
Marine Corps's notion of operational culture [14], are a 
step in the right direction. They focus on cultural 
information that is relevant to military operations. But 
even that provides insufficient focus for the purpose of 
intercultural-skills training. In the military case, for 
example, successful intercultural-skills training requires 
knowing about culture that is operationally focused as 
well as operator-focused \ i.e., focused on what an 
individual military operator (servicemember in the 
field) needs to know’ and be able to do to be effective in 
the intercultural situations they are likely to encounter 
in military operations. Similar concerns arise in 
nonmilitary courses, such as our goEnglish course 
(www.goEnglish.me), developed to teach American 
English and American Culture worldwide. The focus 
there is to provide learners with an understanding of 
culture and communicative skills they are likely to need 
in everyday situations they are likely to encounter when 
they come to the United States. 

These concerns led Alelo to develop a methodology for 
designing intercultural competence courses known as 
the Situated Culture Methodology (SCM). An overview 
of the SCM approach is shown in Figure 6. 

3.1 Focus on operational context 

SCM focuses the curriculum on the operational context: 
the range of situations in which the trainee is expected 
to apply the cultural knowledge being taught. The 
factors involved in considering operational context are 
depicted in the top left of Figure 6. First, it is necessary 
to determine the desired scope of the course: the size of 
the region that trainees are being trained for, the degree 
of cultural proficiency sought, and the range of jobs and 
missions the trainees are being prepared for. In most 
training courses, the scope of the course is constrained 
by the amount of time available to train, which is 
typically quite limited. For example, trainees who train 
using the VCAT course are expected to have an average 
of only four hours of training time. The program of 
instruction for each trainee must therefore by very 
narrow in scope. 


189 



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Figure 6. Situated Culture Methodology 


To maximize training effectiveness for each trainee 
while complying with stringent limitations on training 
time, we generally adopt an approach in which the 
scope of the course is adapted for each individual 
trainee through tailored programs of instruction. When 
trainees begin a course, they complete a brief 
questionnaire in which they indicate the nature of their 
job and anticipated overseas assignment. The training 
software platform then dynamically configures the 
curriculum to fit those job requirements. In the case of 
Tactical Dari, the servicemember's rank and specialty 
help to determine the scope of the curriculum. In the 
case of VCAT, seniority helps to determine the 
curriculum focus, as well as the specific country in the 
Horn of Africa that the servicemember is deploying to. 
This means that the curriculum designer needs to plan 
for not just one course scope, but multiple scopes, each 
of which may involve different learning objectives. 

To determine the cultural knowledge associated with a 
particular scope, instructional designers identify 
scenarios and missions that are typical for a given rank 
or specialty in the cultural region of interest. These, in 
turn, suggest common situations that trainees are likely 
to encounter, e.g., meetings with local leaders and 
counterparts, chance encounters with children in the 
street, or patient interviews in a medical clinic. These 
situations are what provide the primary context and 
focus for the courses. The cultural training course is 
successful if it can properly train people to be effective 
in the intercultural exchanges they are likely to 
encounter in those situations. Those situations also help 
to determine the specific learning objectives that are 
captured in the curriculum design. These typically 
include both cultural-competence objectives as well as 
language-skill objectives, since both may be necessary 

tn rnnp with a oivpn crpnnri n 


Although the scope of the curriculum depends upon the 
responsibilities of the individual trainee, there is 
typically a significant amount of overlap in each 
individualized curriculum. Some cultural skills, such as 
culturally appropriate greetings, are likely relevant 
regardless of the trainee's job. Some skills, particularly 
cross-cultural competence skills, are relevant regardless 
of the target culture. In some cases the trainees' job 
responsibilities cannot be anticipated with precision. 
Moreover, in practice there are limitations to the 
amount of individualized training materials that can be 
authored and developed. These factors serve to limit the 
variability in the situated-culture training objectives. 

3.2 Organize around cultural dimensions and 
factors 

Once the situated-culture learning objectives are 
identified, the next step is to identify cultural 
information that addresses those learning objectives, 
and organize it for inclusion in the training course. To 
help make it easier for trainees to understand what 
cultural information is relevant for operational 
purposes, we organize the cultural material along six 
dimensions: social structure, physical environment, 
political structure, economic structure, perspectives, and 
practices. The social, physical, political, and economic 
factors are concerned more with the macrosocial aspects 
of culture. Perspectives and practices are concerned 
more with factors relating to the microsocial, or one-on- 
one interactions, and provide more of an individual- or 
operator-oriented view. Perspectives include time 
orientation, individualism vs. collectivism, task-oriented 
vs. relationship-oriented working relations, and other 
attitudes toward personal relations. Practices include 
discourse genres, conversational culture, nonverbal 
communication, politeness norms, formalitv vs. 


190 




informality, and other factors influencing cultural 
action. 

To ensure that the cultural material under each cultural 
dimension is relevant to the operational context, each 
cultural dimension is subdivided into cultural factors, 
which are a set of cultural topics that are frequently 
relevant to operational applications. For example, the 
physical environment dimension includes the following 
topics: division of the terrain into cultural regions, 
patterns of land use across the region, patterns of human 
movement and contact between regions, access to 
drinking and irrigation water, and access to energy and 
fuel. By working through the target scenarios with 
subject matter experts, it is possible to identify cultural 
factors that are likely to be relevant. For example, in a 
humanitarian assistance scenario in VC AT, access to 
potable water and electrical power turned out to be 
critical factors in locating a site for a medical relief 
station. 

To further focus the research and identify relevant 
cultural information, we consider operational cultural 
questions associated with each factor. Operational 
culture questions are questions pertaining to a cultural 
factor that commonly arise in the context of a given 
type of operation. We have gathered operational culture 
questions from military culture resources, (e.g., [14]), 
and extend the set of such questions as needed to serve 
the goals of the course curriculum. Using these 
questions in interviews with subject matter experts can 
help uncover additional cultural factors that need to be 
considered in the course. For example, a number of 
operational culture questions pertain to water and 
power, such as who has access to it, who provides or 
controls access to it, and how local people deal with 
shortages of it. 

In addition to identifying relevant cultural factors and 
skills, we seek to identify optimal metacultural skills - 
knowledge and skills that are useful in any cross- 
cultural situation. The successful use of these skills is 
commonly referred to as cross-cultural competence. 
Cross-cultural competence can come into play in 
explaining why particular cultural factors pertain in a 
particular situation and to draw lessons that learners can 
apply in the future to similar situations. Consider for 
example the case of a humanitarian relief scenario in 
which local officials make requests or proposals that, 
from an American perspective, are considered 
inappropriate, such as asking for preferential treatment 
for their family or tribe. This affords the trainee 
opportunities to reinforce metaskills such as perspective 
taking and not being judgmental about differences in 
social norms and attitudes. 

3.3 Design performance-oriented curriculum 

Once the cultural learning objectives have been 
identified and the cultural content has been researched 
and organized, we then design the cultural curriculum 
materials. Based on the analysis of relevant cultural 
factors described above, a detailed set of situated- 
culture learning objectives are defined. 


Most social and cultural factors involve a combination 
of knowledge-oriented learning objectives (e.g., the 
ability to recall cultural facts about the region of 
interest) and skill-oriented learning objectives (the 
ability to apply cultural knowledge in specific settings 
to achieve particular objectives). This typically results 
in a coordinated set of learning materials to cover each 
cultural topic: presentation materials and exercises that 
help ensure that trainees understand the relevant cultural 
concepts and how they apply to task objectives, and 
dramatized scenarios that help learners to develop the 
necessary skills and the ability to apply them in typical 
situations at a desired performance level. 

Simulation therefore plays an essential role in the 
resulting courses, particularly in developing and 
reinforcing the intercultural skills. However, 
simulation-based activities must be supported by other 
learning activities that help develop the underlying 
cultural knowledge. This motivates the hybrid 
instructional designs of training products such as 
Tactical Dari and VC AT, which interleave interactive 
multimedia instruction and simulation-based training. 

Although the emphasis of this discussion has been on 
learning cultural skills, it should be evident that 
language skills are involved as well. Many of the 
detailed skills involve communicating with host 
nationals to achieve particular objectives. For this 
reason, foreign language skills are an essential part of 
the courses that we develop. This is a controversial 
point in some circles; for example, some in the military 
have argued that military operators can rely on 
interpreters, or even translation devices, and therefore 
have little need for language skills beyond some 
minimal vocabulary [1]. Recent experience in 
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan give reason to call 
that position into question. For example, a Marine 
Corps Center for Lessons Learned (MCCLL) study of 
the use of Tactical Iraqi training by the 3 rd Battalion, 7 th 
Marines indicated that there were not enough 
interpreters assigned to the battalion to support every 
encounter between Marines in the unit and host 
nationals, so that it was beneficial to make sure that 
every squad had at least one or two individuals with 
Arabic language training. The MCCLL study [11] 
showed also that even basic language skills facilitated 
operational culture objectives, because it demonstrated 
that the Marines were knowledgeable about the host 
nation culture and were open and receptive to 
intercultural interchange. 

We believe that one reason why the language training in 
Alelo’s courses is effective is because, unlike most 
conventional language courses and language learning 
software, the language-learning objectives are so 
closely tied to cultural-learning objectives and situated- 
task objectives. The language-learning objectives are in 
support of particular intercultural communicative skills. 
Popular language-learning software packages, such as 
Rosetta Stone, deliberately disregard cultural factors to 
make it easier to create a family of language courses 
that all teach in a uniform way. Alelo courses also 
contrast with language courses that promote general 
language proficiency, regardless of task application. 


191 



The design methodology described above assumes that 
when training time is limited, a more efficient training 
approach may be to focus on language skills that are 
involved in the specific communicative skills of 
interest. 

Because intercultural skills are applied in particular 
situational and task contexts, it is appropriate to 
consider integrating cultural-skills training with other 
skills training. A recently developed capability, named 
Virtual Role Players (VRP), makes precisely that 
possible. Small units may practice missions in 
immersive simulations where they can practice their 
culture and language skills in encounters with simulated 
non-player characters. Once this capability is more 
broadly put to use, intercultural communication skills 
will simply become part of the broader range of skills 
that trainees employ to carry out their training exercises. 

The SCM methodology is an iterative design approach. 
Once early versions of cultural training products are 
developed, they undergo pilot testing with 
representative users. Revisions are then made to 
scenarios, situations, learning objectives, or learning 
content to reflect end-user needs and feedback, as 
appropriate. 

4. THE ROLE OF SUBJECT MATTER 
EXPERTS 

Subject matter experts (SMEs) play critical roles 
throughout the SCM development process. There are 
three main types of subject matter experts: task experts, 
culture experts, and language experts. Task experts are 
familiar with how to conduct the scenario or mission; 
typically they have experience conducting missions in 
the area of focus, and understand how the local culture 
can influence the conduct of the mission. Culture 
experts are native to the region, and ideally have some 
expertise in analyzing and explaining culture. Language 
experts have native or near-native proficiency in the 
target language, and ideally have the metalinguistic 
skills to reflect on language forms and the language- 
teaching skills to explain them to learners who are 
unfamiliar with the language. Sometimes a SME may 
play more than one role at once, e.g., a culture SME 
may have linguistic knowledge, or may have worked as 
an interpreter in the region of interest and therefore may 
have some mission experience. 

The more specific and remote the region of interest, the 
more difficult it can be to find culture and language 
SMEs who have expertise that is accurate and up-to- 
date, and also have the ability to reflect on and explain 
it. To cope with this problem, we typically rely on 
multiple SMEs with overlapping knowledge, and 
triangulate between SMEs, as well as between SMEs 
and other resources. We typically start with one or more 
SMEs who have broad knowledge of the general area 
and good ability to articulate and explain it. These 
individuals can help provide general background, as 
well as identify important dimensions of cultural 
variability and diversity in the region. We then refine 
this with specific information obtained from SMEs with 
more local knowledge. We try to interview both male 


and female SMEs, in order to get a well-rounded picture 
of the target culture. Triangulating between SMEs is 
particularly helpful in developing learning materials for 
courses with multiple overlapping scopes (e.g., multiple 
countries or local regions within the same area) or 
whose scope overlaps with that of a previous course 
(e.g., cultural factors in the Tactical Dari course 
overlapped with those in an earlier Tactical Pashto 
course, since the two languages are spoken in the same 
region). 

In the case of task expertise the requisite knowledge is 
more widely available and tends to be well documented, 
at least for military task expertise. However, SMEs who 
have the most specific and in-depth knowledge are often 
active-duty personnel with limited availability. So we 
typically try to rely on a combination of multiple SMEs 
here as well. Task SMEs with the most current and 
accurate knowledge help define the task requirements 
and validate scenario designs for accuracy. Then we 
may rely on other task SMEs who are retired and no 
longer currently involved with such missions, but who 
have access to current resources and reports, to add 
further detail to the task descriptions, as needed. 

Work with SMEs progresses in stages, to inform the 
design process as well as possible and to aid in 
validation of the content. In the first stage, the focus of 
discussion with SMEs is on outlines of the task and 
scenarios (in the case of task SMEs) and cultural and 
linguistic topics (in the case of culture and language 
SMEs, respectively). This may initially consist only of a 
summary of common subtasks to perform, and common 
phrases and communication requirements. This is used 
as the basis for creating outlines of the curriculum 
scenarios. We then ask SMEs to review and approve 
these outlines. The culture researchers on the team then 
conduct preliminary research from Internet and library 
resources, and then follow up later with the SMEs for 
additional information gathering and review. 

The primary method for gathering detailed cultural 
information from cultural SMEs is ethnographic 
interviews. In principle, ethnographic observation in 
real-world contexts is desirable, but is often impractical, 
particularly in hazardous overseas locations. Role- 
playing exercises are also helpful to elicit further details 
about cultural practices and this method is used for 
targeted information gathering. This method is 
particularly valuable in gathering information about 
nonverbal communication and other aspects of culture 
that are implicit or tacit and need to be made more 
explicit. We also ask SMEs to write dialogs in the 
foreign language that are typical for the target scenario; 
this helps to clarify what specific language skills and 
cultural skills are involved. 

During the authoring phase, it is desirable to have SMEs 
available on an ongoing basis to answer specific 
questions and review authored content for accuracy. 
Often some of these SMEs become members of the 
authoring team, and help edit and review material. 


192 



5. ADDRESSING CROSS-CULTURAL 
COMPETENCY STANDARDS 

Cultural competency training is an evolving field, and 
broadly accepted standards are not yet established. 
However, cultural training standards are emerging in the 
military training arena, and so it is worthwhile to 
compare military courses developed using the SCM 
approach against these standards. Other disciplines such 
as medicine and education have their own cultural 
competency standards, and so courses developed in 
those fields would need to be compared against those 
standards. 

The Defense Regional and Cultural Capabilities 
Assessment Working Group (RACCA WG) [12] has 
identified forty cultural competencies relevant to 
military training. These were intended to be oriented to 
the cultural training needs of junior military personnel, 
and so are not precisely suited for all of Alelo’s courses. 
Nevertheless, they provide a useful basis for 
comparison. 

VCAT, in particular, does a fairly good job of 
addressing the RACCA learning objectives. Of the forty 
cultural competencies identified by the RACCA WG, 
VCAT addresses twenty-six of them, and partially 
addresses an additional nine. The remaining objectives 
are primarily culture-general and not oriented toward 
foreign military operations (e.g., focusing on American 
military culture). 

The ability to meet the full range of RACCA WG 
learning objectives within a given course is constrained 
by the amount of available training time. VCAT, in 
particular, is designed to be completed in a short period 
of time and this necessitates focusing strongly on 
cultural skills that can be put to immediate use in 
overseas deployments. If, in the future, cultural training 
is given greater emphasis and, therefore, training time, 
it will be possible to incorporate more cross-cultural 
competence skills within the SCM framework. 

Older Tactical Language courses, such as Tactical Iraqi 
and Tactical Dari, cover a more limited range of cultural 
skills, in part because they give greater emphasis to 
language skills. However, we are taking lessons from 
VCAT and supporting a wider range of cultural learning 
objectives in current language and culture courses. For 
example, the new Operational Indonesian course 
includes a module on culture and metacultural skills, 
and provides learners with a framework for 
understanding culture in general as they learn about the 
particular cultures and languages of Indonesia. 

6. TECHNOLOGY IMPLICATIONS 

A range of software tools and instruction delivery 
technologies can be employed to support the 
methodology described above. Alelo has already 
developed many of these technologies and others are the 
subject of ongoing research and development. 

• Cultural information management tools are 
needed to gather, annotate, and organize 
cultural information. We currently use Google 


Notebook for initial data collection and Fedora 
for managing media assets. 

• Authoring tools are needed to specify the 
content to be delivered. These should support 
collaborative authoring, including participation 
by SMEs. It should support both interactive 
multimedia authoring and interactive 
simulation authoring. We have developed a 
Web-based authoring portal named Kona, to 
meet this need [7]. 

• The authoring tools and content delivery tools 
should support tailoring of the content for the 
needs of individual trainees. We have therefore 
incorporated such tailoring functions into each 
of our content delivery systems [8]. For 
courses that are delivered using SCORM- 
compliant learning management systems, such 
as VCAT, we rely on the advanced sequencing 
functions in SCORM to tailor the curriculum. 

• Since trainees typically have limited time to 
train, it is desirable to provide trainees options 
for continuing their training and maintaining 
their skills. Ideally, these should provide 
trainees the option of training anywhere, 
anytime, to maximize their available training 
time. To meet this need, we have developed 
multi-platform content delivery systems to 
deliver content on whichever delivery platform 
trainees find most convenient, including the 
handheld platforms [6]. 

• Since cultural skills training developed using 
the SCM method is closely aligned with task 
training, it is useful to provide the option of 
training intercultural skills and task skills 
together. Alelo’s Virtual Role Player training 
capability, that integrates artificially intelligent 
virtual role players into multiplayer training 
systems, helps to meet this need. 

7. SUMMARY 

This paper has presented an approach for cultural 
competency training, which is designed to help trainees 
quickly acquire useful intercultural skills. An authoring 
methodology, Situated Culture Methodology, has been 
created to develop these courses. This methodology 
results in courses that are tailored to the needs of 
individual trainees, and provides good coverage both of 
regional cultural competency and cross-cultural 
competency, in a limited amount of training time. 

Courses designed using this method are available for 
download from the Alelo support Web site, as well as 
on Joint Knowledge Online. 

8. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

The author wishes to acknowledge various members of 
the Alelo team who contributed to the work described 
here, including Dr. Suzanne Wertheim, Dr. Andre 
Valente, Michelle Flowers, Rebecca Row, LeeEllen 
Friedland, and Kristen Russell. Thanks to LeeEllen 
Friedland for her comments on this article. 


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This work was funded by the US Joint Forces 

Command, USMC Program Manager for Training 

Systems, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the 

Defense Language Institute. Opinions expressed in this 

article are those of the author, and not of the US 

Government. 

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