Lesson 4.1 The importance of intercultural communication in Open Education

Open Education is directly connected with international experiences in higher education. On the one hand, internet-mediated communication extends the opportunities for intercultural interaction to a greater number of students (Villar-Onrubia & Rajpal, 2016). On the other hand, the internationalisation of higher education facilitates the implementation of open digital practices.

It is a virtuous circle. International experiences prepare institutions for the incorporation of Open Educational Resources, and the incorporation of OER contributes to the internationalisation of university studies. However, in the opposite direction the disconnection and the barriers to innovation reinforce each other.

Therefore, intercultural communication skills are important in the promotion as well as in the implementation of open education.


Intercultural communication skills

Intercultural communication skills are a set of cognitive, affective and behavioural skills that lead to effective communication and behaviour in intercultural settings.

Previous research has identified a set of eight core competencies that define culturally competent individuals. For an individual to handle well in intercultural relationships it is necessary to have (a) adequate knowledge of the cultures in contact, (b) cognitive skills to develop positive interpersonal relationships, and (c) problem solving and relationship building skills (Maya Jariego, 2002; Maya Jariego, Holgado & Santolaya, 2006). The eight competencies are summarised below.


8 Skills for effective intercultural communication

Skills Definition
Understanding of the other culture Having a good knowledge of the values, beliefs and ideology of the other culture allows adequate attributions of the behaviour of its members. In addition to the specific knowledge of the other culture, knowledge of other cultures in general may also be useful.
Understanding of one’s culture There is a relationship between the level of knowledge of one’s culture and the knowledge that can be acquired over a third culture. It also can help to better face the process of acculturation.
Empathy Cultural exchanges require the ability to adopt the point of view of the interlocutor. This is one of the most relevant elements of effectiveness in communication, in general. Cognitive decentralisation and the ability to recognise differences allow adaptation to culturally diverse groups.
Tolerance for ambiguity This refers to the ability to cope with complex, unclear and uncertain situations that may arise in intercultural communication. Intercultural relationships tend to carry a high degree of uncertainty and unpredictability.
Cognitive Flexibility Being able to accommodate easily to the circumstances or opinions of others.
Delay the evaluation of the behaviour of others Ability not to evaluate in advance the behaviour of the other. This has also been called ‘respect for cultural differences’, emphasising its affective component.
Problem solving skills Managerial skills, task solving in different contexts, planning, etcetera.
Relationship building skills Ability to initiate contacts, to maintain control over the image transmitted in the interaction, to know how to adjust to the required social distance and to make appropriate use of social support networks.


The following example illustrates the influence of communication skills:

A Moroccan lecturer provides individualised tutoring on Skype in a postgraduate course on marketing strategies taught in French for students from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Spain and Italy. The communication develops in general without problems. Despite the national differences, the teacher has the feeling that the countries of the Mediterranean share the same style of open, expressive and friendly communication. Interruptions by the students, which are frequent, are understood as a sign of interest and facilitate clarification by the teacher.

A year later, the Moroccan business school decided to open new markets in Asia and the teacher repeated the same course with Chinese students. The teacher experienced some differences in individual tutoring. Chinese students are usually quieter, and they do not ask questions until the teacher stops speaking. She has the feeling that Chinese students are less expressive, it is more difficult for her to interpret nonverbal cues, and she has to make an extra effort of empathy to confirm that the students follow their explanations.

After this experience, the business school decided to implement a teacher preparation course in which teachers are trained in Chinese culture, communication styles, and effective intercultural communication skills.