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What is Culture?

Learning as Culture
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Visualize yourself as a member of a culture group sharing a set of common experiences upon which you will base your judgment of new experiences.  This is the basis of our learning.  A collection of shared experiences is the basis of our culture.  Differences are found in social relationships, obligations and family structures of different cultures.

We learn these relationships and their structures, which become part of our experience.  On that basis we process new knowledge or information.  This is what we refer to as cognitive culture, the cultural concepts an individual develops as a result of this reflective process.

The culture group sets the basic terms of our communication events.  First of all each culture group has a language, which is usually the primary identifying factor.  Some cultures are bilingual.  Language is a part of this common set of experiences that we call culture.

The naming system, the family and social structures, like family, clan, nation or tribe, which are shared significant experiences, must be called the social culture.  The language we learn, the family we are born into and the communication styles we learn without choice from the frame of reference for learning.  Learning styles, then, are an aspect of culture.

Every encounter between two or more humans can be analyzed as a communication event.  Learning, therefore, is one type of communication event.  It may be formal learning, semi-formal like learning through apprenticeship, or informal through casual observation.

Precedents and Attitudes
Our learning experiences in our home culture, village and family set precedents that affect how we process input, how we determine significant factors and what expectations we have of ourselves and others.  This includes attitudes towards information and actions, motivation and initiative.

New experiences are evaluated on the basis of previous experiences.  Two factors are involved here.  First, experience, being the events that have occurred, and then knowledge, being information gained including reflection on these experiences and previous knowledge.  Your experience and knowledge are evaluated on the basis of previous experience.

One thing involved in our communicating is our cultural knowledge.  Previous cultural knowledge affects the status or perception, and the significance, of new knowledge in its cultural aspects.  This is why some cultures are slow to change, or suspicious of foreign ideas or approaches.


Original version of this article published in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, November 1993
This version posted on Orville Jenkins Thoughts and Resources 17 August 2001
Last revised 31 October 2008

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD

Copyright 1993, 2001 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

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