Diversity at Work: Web-based Simulation Activities

To meet its economic labour market targets, Alberta will be increasingly reliant on immigration to meet its labour force requirements. By 2030, approximately one in four people in Canada could be foreign-born. Unlike past waves of immigrants coming primarily from Europe, immigrants coming to Canada from Asian or African countries are crossing larger divides in economic, political and social systems so will face more challenges to adapt to working in Canada. To address the changing labour market needs of Alberta’s newest workers, skilled immigrants need easy to access resources that directly address language in the workplace to prepare them to more quickly and successfully move into employment in Alberta. Online resources can be flexibly used to support a range of language learning opportunities – from full-time English language programming to English language tutoring services. 

This project developed an online resource that can be used by ESL teachers across the continuum of English language programming in Alberta, both for teacher-directed study and to support self-study. The online simulation activities will support adult ESL learners to practice making adaptive decisions in workplace communication. This practice supports these learners to build on their language proficiency, to communicate effectively and appropriately in the Alberta workplace.  

Lessons learned 

Learners participating in 1-2 hour pilot lessons were successful in identifying key helpful (clarifying tasks, asking questions) and challenging behaviors (making assumptions, ignoring nonverbal communication) to complete communication goals in workplace settings. Pilot participants were highly engaged to solve the simulation activities, showing strong motivation to find the “right” option and to better understand why other options were not the best choice. The online simulation activity proved to be an effective way for learners to understand the language and cultural components in workplace simulation scenarios. Feedback from pilot users and reviewers identified the difficulty for learners to explore a decision point pathway that does not create the best outcome, wanting a way to fix the mistake made earlier in the simulation. Instructors identified the potential for learners to become frustrated in following a pathway that cannot be resolved positively, wanting learners to have the opportunity to learn how to navigate a workplace communication mistake. Pilot participants liked working in smaller groups to discuss options as an opportunity to ask questions and discuss reasons why one option might work better than another.

Feedback from review and dissemination activities highlighted the concern that the learners from a similar cultural background to the characters may reject the learning resource if they interpret the representation of the character in a stereotypical way, e.g. all Chinese people are not like the character Bo or a more general concern that characters from other backgrounds are the only characters being shown as making mistakes. The guide provided with the video includes the specific perspective points for each character. In facilitating a learning experience with this resource, it is important to position the lesson from the perspective points of the characters as one representation of a cultural norm, not a representation of all people from a specific cultural background. In providing different perspectives, the project team has found it helpful to avoid naming a specific culture, rather to focus on the character whose perspective includes several characteristics that includes cultural background. 

The simulations showed situations with interactions between a Canadian workplace normal and another cultural background normal. Options or decision points for action in scenarios were designed to be based on each character’s goals, the context, use of language and cultural factors that influence how and what each character does. The simulation activities use a character profile to base the logic of the character’s actions and choices in the online scenario. The profile was based on cultural orientations, intercultural competence based on the Intercultural Development Continuum (Bennett), Canadian pragmatic patterns and the character’s capacity for perspective taking. The simulations modeled the impact of behaviors that helped each character achieve their goal and the impact of behaviors that created problems in reaching their goal. The simulations and supporting resources help make visible the dynamics of these factors. Based on pilot feedback, it is a useful approach to closely align intercultural communicative competence teaching resources to enable ESL instructors to integrate into language instruction. Additional professional development supports to ensure ESL instructors are confident to facilitate learner discussions of language and cultural norms in workplace situations was identified as a need through participant feedback.



Online Simulations: A Guide for Instructors

What Would You Say? Intercultural Simulations Activity Card

Curriculum Outcomes (ATESL ICC, CLB, Essential Skills)

Introduction to Online Simulation Activities (YouTube)

Other project information
Project time frame October 2014 – October 2015
Project team
  • Kerry Louw
  • Yuji Abe
  • Cheryl Whitelaw
  • Todd Odgers
Project sponsor Government of Alberta, Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour
Key project activities

This project included the following activities:

  • Develop 3 online simulation activities to develop decision-making within workplace communication scenarios.
  • Develop a guide to support use of the simulation activities for language and intercultural learning.
Target audience
  • ESL Instructors
  • Human Resource Professionals
  • Employers
  • Immigrant Professionals
  • Immigrant Serving Agencies
Number of people involved in project

121 people including: 

  • 4 project team members
  • 12 participants involved in creating online simulation activities and guide
  • 68 participants in piloting activities
  • 37 participants in conference dissemination activities
Outreach 1157 followers reached through Tweets and retweets