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An introduction to intercultural competence in the workplace

Intercultural competence is much more than simply learning facts about other countries. It’s a willingness to see the world through someone else’s eyes, developing deep cultural knowledge, curiosity, and empathy, all while exploring your own cultural self-awareness. Throughout this online short course, you’ll look at your own experiences and case studies from employees and employers around the world to analyse the critical role language use, identity claims, and culture can play in interactions you may have with others in a range of professional settings. You’ll explore how various cultural backgrounds within a team can result in different working preferences and communication styles and, by developing your own intercultural competence, you’ll improve your communication skills for the modern workplace, enhancing your career and beyond.

After successfully completing this short course, you’ll receive a digital badge. This can be shared on social media, added to email signatures or act as a certificate.

Standalone study only

You will not be awarded credits for studying this course. It is available for standalone study only and cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.

Short course

Short course code



This is a non-credit bearing course.

Study method

Short course cost

Entry requirements

What you will study

You’ll explore a different thematic focus across ten units, each one relevant to developing intercultural competence at work:

Unit 1 unpacks complex and seemingly broad concepts like culture, communication and intercultural communication. A clear understanding of the impact of these is central to analysing authentic professional interactions and dynamics in the workplace.

Unit 2 focuses on different properties and expectations of non-verbal communication that are relevant at work, such as body language and its potential meaning or interpretation.

Unit 3 focuses on the concept of identity. You’ll develop a critical understanding of national culture and national identity as well as the concepts of ‘othering’ and belonging.

Unit 4 aims to give you a deeper understanding of the processes of enculturation and acculturation at work and in society. It also shows how to recognise stereotyping and you’ll discuss why it is so common and how it can be avoided.

Unit 5 introduces the concept of ‘face’ – or the image or status we claim in a social setting - and discusses cultural variations and expectations of how politeness is expressed, also with regards to gender. It invites you to test your own unconscious biases.

Unit 6 examines different strategies of cultural adjustment and language policies when working abroad. It also unpacks rather abstract requirements like a ‘global mindset’ through the discussion of concrete examples.

Unit 7 discusses the impact of cultural differences on intercultural collaborations both online and in face-to-face encounters. You are also invited to try out one of the suggested team-building exercises via the course forum.

Unit 8 unpacks what intercultural conflict competence entails and what practices it requires to resolve conflict while being considerate of intercultural competence to result in a productive outcome for all.

Unit 9 focuses on the importance of changing perspectives and critically reflecting on worldviews that are treated as ‘normal’. The focus here lies on the categories of ‘East’ and ‘West’.

Unit 10 provides a summary of the key course content illustrating and reinforcing the skills you have acquired throughout the course.

Please note that although this course is non-accredited, it can be used towards the module Making your learning count (YXM130) to gain OU credits.

You will learn

By the end of this course, you will:

  • understand the implications of simplistic and reductionist definitions of culture
  • be aware of how to accommodate for different communication styles
  • be able to recognise and prevent ‘othering’ and stereotyping
  • have critically evaluated narratives that appear to be objective and ‘normal’
  • understand how recognising someone’s frame of reference is crucial to mediate between cultures
  • be more aware of how your own attitude is crucial in becoming an effective and empathetic communicator at work.

Learner support

The course is taught entirely online, with the aid of a learning adviser to offer support where needed. You will have access to online forums that you are strongly encouraged to participate in, as they are an excellent source of support and information. These forums combine peer support with input from the specialist learning adviser(s). Other support is available via the StudentHome website and computing helpdesk.

If you have a disability

The course is delivered online and makes use of a variety of online resources. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs.

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying LG004 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations, which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Entry requirements

There are no entry requirements for this course.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact us.

Course length

The course is made up of 10 units, with each unit expected to take about 4 hours to study. In total, you’ll need around 40 hours to complete the course.

You can begin at any time during the life of the course and study at your own pace. The course will be open to you for a time period of between 6 and 18 months depending on your course registration date and you will be advised of the specific time limitations upon enrolment.


Start End England fee Register
At anytime before registration end date Jun 2025 - see Entry requirements for more detail £195.00

Registration closes 31/07/2024


Ways to pay

Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron.

Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

The fee information provided here is valid for short courses starting in the 2024/25 academic year. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of not more than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

All learning materials are delivered entirely online and there is no formal tuition for this course.

Your study is self-directed and you’ll have access to a course website, which includes:

  • a unit-by-unit study planner
  • course-specific materials and activities
  • audio and video content
  • discussion forums and a course forum
  • support from specialist learning advisers.

Computing requirements

You'll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS Ventura or higher.

Functionality may be limited on mobile devices. For example, voice recorder activities, which are common in language short courses, may not work on iOS/Apple devices.

Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It's not available on Kindle.

It's also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you'll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.