FutureLearn – Intercultural Communications: Getting Started

I signed up to this FutureLearn course a few weeks ago, which isn’t my usual style, generally I pick a course that both sounds good and that I can get stuck into right away. This was a weird feeling, and I found that I lost my initial enthusiasm for the course content as a result, and my enthusiasm to get back into online learning. This is my own fault of course, and now I’m behind, since we’re almost at the end of the first week into the second week!

It’s also a huge shame, because from the moment I started up the first video introducing the course, I was extremely back into it.

Right from the start – by which I mean the course leaders introducing themselves, the word ’empathy’ came up, which I think is a really important consideration when talking about communication – it covers and goes above things like language and intent and many other facets.

Early on, they presented a series of quotes on Intercultural Communications and learners were invited to choose one and/or discuss which ones best summed up the topic. This was my reply in the course section comments:

I definitely like Number two – but one thing I think needs a mention came up in 1.4 when Dr Chi Ruobing mentioned ’empathy’. This is something that allows understanding by way of one person putting themselves into another person’s shoes. Thinking about that now, maybe Number three is the better interpretation!

For context, the three quotes were:

  • Intercultural communication refers to the communication between people from two different cultures. (Chen & Starosta, 1998:28)
  • Intercultural communication is a symbolic, interpretive, transactional, contextual process, in which people from different cultures create shared meanings. (Lustig & Koester, 2007:46)
  • Intercultural communication refers to the effects on communication behavior, when different cultures interact together. Hence, one way of viewing intercultural communication is as communication that unfolds in symbolic intercultural spaces. (Arasaratnam, 2013:48)

The next section starts defining Intercultural Communication with more depth – which only shows how much harder it is to define, and also how many intercultural boundaries there can be, sometimes in unexpected places. The quote below is from the provided article, and shows this fairly well:

Cultural differences can be categorized by nationality, ethnicity, religious belief, gender, age/generation, geographical region, political ideology, body (dis)ability, sexual orientation, etc. None of us belong to only one type of cultural groups, so it is natural that several of these categories might apply in one interaction. In certain contexts, one or more of the cultural categories would be salient or singled out in comparison with others.*

Keeping up with my promise to myself (and a previous blogpost) that I would work to provide comments within the course and not be a passive online learner, I put this note in the comments:

I appreciated that the article suggests shades of grey in what is and isn’t intercultural communication – that depending on context there may be greater or fewer intercultural differences at play. It also illustrates that in a communication setting, one person may understand or see this more clearly than the other.

The next section looked at potential cultural conflicts – starting with the ‘fish out of water’ metaphor that most of us would use in this situation without even really examining it. We grow up and live in one culture that becomes a familiar and natural environment, one that we don’t even have to think about, it’s a part of our life, our daily being. Then, when placed into a new cultural environment where social cues or behaviours are changed or missing, we feel uncomfortable and confused – again, this may not even be from conscious behaviour because we have never had to consider these behaviours consciously.

The term ‘cultural baggage’ came next, as they discussed the importance of examining your own culture as much as others, because your learned environment creates a specific understanding of the world, and specific expectations of the world, which may not apply to other people.

There was also a focus on evaluation as you go through life interacting with other cultures, to see where misconceptions and misunderstandings may have occurred (whether they were obvious at the time or only in retrospect) and to consider how you may have acted differently. Doing so will help, to quote one of the course contributors (Dr. Yan Bing Zhang):

…become informed citizens, leaders, and advocates in understanding ways in which communication sustains and erodes collaboration within and among local, national, and global communities.

*Chi, R. B. (2015). What is intercultural Communication? The SISU Intercultural Institute “Intercultural Communication” FutureLearn course reading. Retrieved from https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/intercultural- communication/


#Blaugust x #FutureLearn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part Five

I’ve made it to the final week’s worth of learning for Future Learn‘s ‘Understanding Museums as a Site and Source for Learning’.


This section of the course focuses on the role of a conservator in museums, especially when working with contemporary art that might have been made from less-than-sturdy materials. How do you preserve and record, and do you need to preserve it at all in some cases?

The main function of a conservator is to look after the artworks in their organisation’s collection – so proper installation and storage instructions are very important. A wide range of skills are necessary, and an understanding of a huge range of possible materials. The course didn’t mention it, but I assume you would also need to know may specialists in this job! We are asked the question – when it comes to caring for an artwork, who’s opinion is more important, the conservator or the original artist? I feel I would slightly come down on the side of the conservator, as their organisation is in a position of responsibility – frequently to the public, if an artwork is purchased and maintained with public funding.

There was a discussion around conserving the installation ‘Inner City’, which I mentioned in my previous blogpost for this course. This was able more than preserving the physical aspects – there were sound files on obsolete disc technology that had to be recreated, and a lighting system that needed updating for current health and safety regulations. In a digital age, these kind of issues will be more and more common in the future. However, there is also the issue of whether the degradation of an artwork is a part of the artwork’s history, or whether you should keep it exactly as it was when first created.

The next section revolved around the basics of how you would create a collection and the basics of an exhibition. This was really interesting to read, but harder to write about! Plus, I’m about to pay Future Learn/University of Glasgow to have this course accredited, which as well as getting an exciting certificate, it means that unlike some previous Future Learn courses, I get to go back to this course whenever I like!

This has been a very different, fascinating course for me to do, and while I promised myself that I wouldn’t be taking any Future Learn courses just for the sake of Blaugust content, I may have to sign up for something else verrrrryyyy soon…

FutureLearn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part 2 – Engaging Different Audiences

Yesterday, I started a new Future Learn course – ‘Understanding Museums as a Site and Source for Learning’. I’m going to try and get through this course fairly quickly, so I’m planning on doing daily or near-daily posts with my notes from the course – my previous post is here.

How to engage different audience groups

The next section of the course Museums as a site and source for learning: Week One looked at how to engage and accommodate different types of audiences.


The first was children, where the emphasis is on engaging them via different senses – exhibits, workshops and activities that use sight, sound etc., as well as a focus on interactive activities that both confirm skills and experiences they already have (the example given was around basic literacy) as well as providing new experiences.

The key person in this video was the facilitators, in encouraging children to vocalise their thoughts, and come to conclusions via their own ideas rather than being told answers.

Deaf Visitors, and visitors with hearing loss

The next video looked at the issues of providing information in museums in a way which can be translated into British Sign Language, as specialised language might not be translatable. Public tours with transcripts don’t really work either, as it can lose specific details.

It’s also important to ensure that text-based information in exhibitions is clearly visible and easy to read.

A video interviewing deaf visitors, we are asked to consider previous info about putting exhibits into lived context – can the museums’ content be related to artists/historical figures with deafness

Visually-Impaired Visitors

The course gave an example of a staff member in a gallery giving an audio description of a painting. This is an important way to engage visitors, but it is also a skill that would require training.

Young People

The final section discussed the issues that museums and galleries have had in engaging young people who may not feel that the content is relevant to them, or may be nervous about coming into a building, especially when they worry that they may automatically be regarded with suspicion by staff and security. Many cultural institutions have issues with this, and have different ways of making a place seem more welcoming, or more relaxed, holding parties etc. Also, young people are (and should be) encouraged to have opinions on the arts, even if they don’t like it or find it irrelevant, and not be afraid of being wrong.

The last part of Week One covers some elements of how museums and galleries use social media to engage, so I’ll be looking over that, and whipping up a quick set of notes tomorrow. After that, it’s August… I mean Blaugust… and I’ll see there that goes!

FutureLearn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part 1 – Visitor Profiles

I went back on Future Learn for the first time in a while, and immediately came across a course that is perfect for my current career working in arts/cultural event marketing – ‘The Museum as a Site and Source for Learning’.

I’ve only gone a short way through the first week’s work of this three week course, and so far I’ve made notes on the sections covering the elements of creating engaging content, and visitor profiling. These are both things I’m very familiar with already, although not in the context of museums.

Designing exhibits to engage people

All content for your venue should be developed with the visitor in mind. Always need to have an audience in mind before you even begin to programme – this will determine not just content but also approach – tone of voice etc.

  •         Families – Conversation and Dialogue, like interactive experience and group-based tasks
  •         Adults will pick and choose the topic and exhibition they want to engage with

For families and early years, an exhibition should encourage play – this is something that came up a lot at the Arts Marketing Association Conference earlier this week (see my posts about that here). At the AMA, they talked about wanting visitors to have a creative approach and response to your programming, and also the importance of flexibility.

  • Make content relatable to people’s own lives – put it in context.
  • Importance of research – you can gauge the level of understanding and engagement through direct contact with the audience. If you don’t have an understanding of this, then you’re only guessing on how your target audience will like your product, and you could get it completely wrong.

One way is to test a single content idea with an audience, and allowing them to engage with it and then feed back. This will be through a number of approaches such as focus groups, interview and observation. This gives you both quantitative and qualitative data.

Generally, I’m used to doing post-content research, which tends to be more survey-based. Face-to-face feedback is also very important, especially from those at the highest level and lowest level of engagement – those people who come all the time, and are often involved in other ways such as volunteering or through patron programmes, and  then those for whom it might be the first time in years, or at all.

Visitor Profiling

The next section discussed visitor segmentation and profiling, via two methods. One was used to understand what particular factors prompt someone to visit, and is based of surveying and visit recollection.

  1. EXPLORERS, generic interest in the content, wan to  find something that will grab their attention
  2. FACILITATORS – enabling the experience and learning of others in their accompanying group.
  3. PROFESSIONALS/HOBBYISTS – coming for specific content related to their job/hobby/studies
  4. EXPERIENCE SEEKERS – See the museum itself as an important destination
  5. RECHARGERS – looking for ‘a contemplative, spiritual and restorative experience’

The other profiling method was more psychological-based, as well as surveying visitors on their experience of the exhibitions, they also used sensors on visitors to track heartbeat and reactions to exhibits, as well as mapping their path through the venue. This produced three visitor profile types. (Note, this profiling was done specifically on contemporary art gallery visitors, which may have produced both a smaller and narrower sample size of visitors.)

  1. THE CONTEMPLATIVE VISITOR. These visitors like to move around alone, to think about the art work, to reflect
  2. THE ENTHUSIASTIC VISITOR who does not come alone, is generally older and likes to chat about the art.
  3. THE SOCIAL VISITOR goes because of company, talks while at exhibition (although not necessarily about the art).

This form of segmentation is slightly different to the demographic – based work that I’m used to, primarily through Audience Finder’s Audience Spectrum, and Experian’s Mosaic, though it is somewhat like MHM’s Culture Segments.

The next sections of the course cover different audience groups and how to reach them, then how to use social media as a learning tool.


(Image above from Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Insel Museum, Berlin by Mike Steele, original here)


Future Learn Digital Analysis Notes for Week Two

This was only a two week short course, but the same provider is running a number of other free courses via Future Learn that I will be looking at! Though I only ended up writing a small amount of notes, it was still a great, quick way to keep myself refreshed on marketing and research techniques, some of which I might need to use in my job very soon.

Week two: Segmentation

This is splitting your followers into groups according to their behaviours and preferences in order to market the right products to them.

In order to build these segments and to analyse whether they are working for you, you have to build context into your data, by creating both internal and external benchmarks, so you can compare your current success both to previous data and to the success other your competitors.

  • Missions statements, a successful company generally has a customer-oriented one
  • A strategy should be focussed on the specifics of the business and what makes it unique
  • KPIs need to be tangible measurements and numbers, relevant to your strategy
  • Once you know how a customer came to your company (via an offer, website etc) you can start to build a profile and segment your demographics

There will always be challenges in acquiring data – some of it may be incomplete or wrong, so try to focus on the overall pattern and what it tells you.

Future Learn Digital Analysis Notes for Week One

I’m back on the Future Learn train again! This time, I’m taking a short fortnight-long course in Digital Analytics, and as always I’ve been making notes for a blog post out of the first week of course material.


Data is everything that you collect as research, but analytics are primarily concerned with the numbers.

The power of digital analytics is mostly in measuring behaviour. There has been an explosion of data as it is much easier to collect and store with modern computers.

There are four types of analysis.

Descriptive –> What has happened?
Diagnostic –> Why has it happened?
Predictive –> What will happen?
Prescriptive –> What can happen?

We have analytics in many areas now that we didn’t have before, and we have improved our techniques in many areas. Knowing where your business is up to enables you to make better business decisions based on quantifiable facts.

To use analytics effectively, you need a definitive problem and an set of answers, as well as a defined measure of success.


A key website metric for businesses is of course conversions – which the course defines as

An activity on your site that is important to the success of your business

This is more than how many people look at your site, it is how they engage with it. These metrics indicate what is and isn’t working in your website and marketing strategy.

The course defines two types of conversion – micro and macro.

Micro Macro
Following on twitter Purchasing a product

Metrics need to be continually reviews and checked over to ensure that you are still getting the right answers and acting on them – it is a process of constant improvement.

Why We Post Week One: Social Media Anthropology

The next part of week one of this Future Learn course (my notes on the first part can be found here) focuses on how social media can be researched from an anthropological perspective – meaning that social media is placed within the context of the culture and society of the people using it. 

The course material asked:

Why might anthropology be particularly suited to the study of social media?

And my answering comment was:

The anthropological aspect means we understand that a person is more than what they post on social media, and there are decisions made and influences which we don’t see that influence how they use social networks.

At this point, we were asked to put a geographical marker on a map to show where everyone on the course is from – I love this!

The researchers who created this course described some of the changes that they had seen in social media between different locations and different areas. For example, email became the main method of communication for both work and personal time in older generations, but in younger people it is almost solely used for work and education – other ways are used for personal communication. 

They also noted that in some countries, social media has been massively beneficial in holding social structure together where mass migration for work is happening, for example in China and India. Parents, especially fathers, are often separated from their families for long periods of time while they work in other parts of the country. Social media is an easy to maintain familial bonds. Also, from a work perspective it is seen as an easy way for co-workers to get to know each other’s lives and socially integrate more quickly. 

The research in different parts of the world was carried out through interviews and questionnaires over a long period, giving large amounts of qualitative data which gave the researchers a detailed insight into the lives of the people they were studying and how social media usage both changed and changed them over time.