Multicultural Competence

Examine personal values, assumptions, biases, and worldview and study the worldview of others in order (a) to gain information about diverse groups and (b) to work and lead in the multicultural environments of higher education and continuing education.

In my work as a staff attorney at a legal aid organization, my training included the review of “Client-Centered Interviewing: An Overview” by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) (2004), and I have found this to be a compelling resource for the establishment and maintenance of supportive and inclusive environments for all learners.

According to the MLRI, the maxim of interviewing can be described as “we must expect to be misunderstood. We must expect to misunderstand,” (p. 1), and is particularly relevant when interviewing clients to determine the nature of their legal problems.  This seems very similar to the process of identifying student needs in the instructional environment, and the MLRI (2004) materials insist that “whatever your assumptions, examine and test them” (p. 11), which seems similar to the guidance offered by Fabiano (2001) in Baseball and Roots: Two Perspectives on Standpoint.  In both the instructional and legal services contexts, effective practice is grounded in an awareness of the existence of difference in standpoints and perspectives, as well as values, assumptions, biases, and worldview.

In August 2008, I wrote a blog post that reflects on Brookfield (1995) in the context of my prior training as a legal aid attorney (Wilder, 2008a), as part of a project for CCE field experience credit (Wilder, 2008b). Themes related to recognizing the impact and influence of culture on the learning experience are echoed by Brookfield (1995), including how “[i]n a very important sense we construct our experience: how we sense and interpret what happens to us and to the world around us is a function of structures of understanding and perceptual filters that are so culturally embedded that we are scarcely aware of their existence or operation.” (p. 4).

Closson (2013) emphasizes that “the point is to allow the opportunity for possible differences to surface as opposed to assuming that there is no difference” (p. 64), and that “acknowledging racial and cultural differences, if handled sensibly and sensitively, can be a signal to nondominant racial and cultural groups that the educator “sees” them and is willing to become aware of and dialogue with them regarding the challenges they might face.” (p. 66).

Strategies for supporting inclusive learning environments include discussion and reflection journals that ask learners to “identify their hopes and fears regarding the course and application of the knowledge and skills learned,” (Closson, 2013, p. 66). Closson (2013) also states that educators should “be open to brainstorming with learners how to realistically identify and navigate” barriers related to racial and cultural difference (p. 67), and suggests problem-based learning (PBL) activities “where problems are actually generated by the learners,” because this “enables individual or community problems to emerge from the context” (p. 66). As a criminal justice instructor, I have designed assignments where learners select public policy issues to research and present to the class, and according to Closson (2013), this enables learners “to determine the extent to which their learning will be couched within issues around race or cultural differences” (p. 66).

Closson (2013) states that is crucial to consider “how lack of status, education, and wealth may influence the learning transaction, and, by extension, learning transfer,” (p. 61) and cites Caffarella (2002) for the assertion that “the acknowledgment of cultural difference in the planning can be an enhancement to transfer of learning,” and Sheared (1999) for the suggestion that “one way to increase relevance is to dialogue with learners about how they expect to use the knowledge gained.” (p. 64, citing Caffarella, 2002, Sheared, 1999).  McGinty et al., (2013) emphasize that it is important to spend time building a learning community (p. 52), which is something I have done as an instructor through introductory discussions that ask students to introduce themselves, including their career and learning goals.

Weimer (2002, pp. 157-158) and Smith (2008, p. 77) emphasize the importance of communication with students as a way to build rapport with all learners, and as an instructor, I have found that rapport with learners can be an important support for learner engagement. An open and inclusive learning environment develops what the MLRI (2004) refers to as an “active partnership” directed by the client’s goals and interests (p.2), and this “active partnership” is echoed by Smith (2008), who advises instructors to “establish a rapport with your students and a situation in which you want them to know that you are on their team to help them get to the goal.” (p. 41).



Brookfield, S. (1995). Adult Learning: An Overview, in A. Tuinjman (ed.) (1995). International Encyclopedia of Education. Oxford, Pergamon Press.

Closson, R. (Spring 2013). Racial and Cultural Factors and Learning Transfer. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 137. Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Fabiano, P. (2001). Baseball and Roots: Two Perspectives on Standpoint.

McGinty, J., Radin, J., & Kaminski, K. (Spring 2013). Brain-Friendly Teaching Supports Learning Transfer. New Directions For Adult and Continuing Education, 137. Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (2004). Client-Centered Interviewing: An Overview. Basic Lawyer Skills Training 2004, Vermont Legal Aid.

Smith, R.M. (2008). Conquering the Content: A Step-by-Step Guide to Online Course Design. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Weimer, M. (2002). Responding to Resistance. Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Wilder, R. (August 2008a). Virtual Unknowns: Poverty, Culture and Class on the Internet. Learning Document. Retrieved from

Wilder, R. (August 2008b). About. Learning Document. Retrieved from


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