Cultural diversity enriches the educational experience. We learn from those whose experiences, beliefs, and perspectives are different from our own. These lessons can be taught best in a richly diverse intellectual and social environment. With diversity growing in the United States, it is imperative that educators increase cultural awareness and knowledge to become comfortable with cultural encounters, as well as teaching about culture and diversity. When educators understand that the role of culture does not mean learning endless facts about many cultures, but rather coming to see how culture shapes beliefs about learning and education, educators can begin to re-examine and redesign curricula in many fruitful ways making teaching and learning about culture easier.

Research suggests two broad cultural value systems shape people’s thoughts and actions in virtually all aspects of life. These two cultural value systems are individualism and collectivism. The dominant culture in the United States, which has its roots in Western Europe, is highly individualistic with the goal of teaching to become independent and strive for individual success. In contrast, many immigrant families, as well as American Indians, Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders, and African-Americans, socialize their children to be more collectivistic. In their child-rearing practices, these families emphasize maintenance of close bonds to family, responsiveness to family needs and goals, and working on tasks together as a group. From this mindset, the individualism and collectivism (IC) framework have the potential to help educators make hidden cultural patterns transparent although the IC framework; however, this must be used with caution due to the fact that generalizations do not apply to every individual.

Cultural Differences

Representative of mainstream United States, Western Europe, Australia, and CanadaRepresentative of 70% of world cultures including those of many U.S. immigrants
Well-being of individual; responsibility for selfWell-being of group; responsibility for group
Individual achievementFamily/group success
Task orientationSocial orientation
Cognitive intelligenceSocial intelligence
Note. Adapted from Deal (2002).

One example of teaching a class of multicultural students using the IC framework is designing an activity that asks students to participate in two related stages of reflective engagement involving race, ethnicity, culture, and individuality. First, the class as a whole can identify 8 to 10 items they consider essential to exploring and conveying ethnic, cultural, and individual identity. Second, the students can create a poster symbolizing the pride of their culture and heritage. The project can culminate in a gallery walk with posters and items exhibited, and students available to explain and answer questions about their posters’ content and items. These activities allow students the opportunity to speak freely about their ethnicity and cultural heritage, as well as be open to other cultures, races, and ethnicities. Adult learners accumulate knowledge most effectively when they are active participants in their own learning process. Students can use storytelling to talk about their items and posters, making the subject matter more interesting and relatable for other culturally diverse students.

Do you think the concepts of individualism and collectivism can be applied effectively to teach nursing students about cultural diversity?


Deal, C. (2002). Application of the concepts of individualism and collectivism to intercultural training.   Retrieved from

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