Designing a successful eLearning course for a global audience is a challenging task. Mirroring the effort that goes into designing English content, technology-based learning must be built on careful consideration of the purpose of the learning, consider the various, specific impacts of education for each culture, and enable learners to build and nurture their own rich, heterogeneous personal learning networks.
According to ASTD’s ad hoc survey The Role of Learning in Globally Dispersed Workforces (2008 State of the Industry Report), 24% of the surveyed companies transitioning to a global operation said the transition was smooth. In preparing their globally dispersed workforce, 35% or fewer taught basic job skills in the international operation, conducted orientation/onboarding, or taught industry knowledge to employees. Only 25% addressed cultural differences that affect management, and only 28% felt that learning initiatives in their global operations were successful. And finally, the overall globalization (outsourcing, off-shoring, global product development) failure rate has been 7:3.
In our own industry, we have seen examples of global eLearning gone wrong. One of them was a US-based company lost millions of dollars because they perceived the Brazilian-based team as non-compliant with the eLearning course, which the Brazilian team wasn’t successfully completing. Digging in, we discovered that the eLearning focused heavily on US Finance Law, asking questions that the Brazilian team couldn’t answer; it didn’t deal with any realistic scenario for their market. Additionally, the training didn’t consider any finance laws for Brazil.
Solutions for this could include:
- Modularization: Reusable learning objects (RLOs): alternative activities that accomplish the same learning objective but use different formats, media, or teaching techniques. Cross-cultural learning objects (XCLOs) are RLOs that specifically accommodate the cultural preferences of different learners while still achieving the objective of the activity.
- Use of Globalized English. Contains no contractions, uses concise language. No phrases ending with propositions (i.e. make up or go over)
Good eLearning ensures that course content, pedagogical methods, and media work with needs of learners in other cultures so that everyone taking the eLearning course achieves the same learning outcome. Train your course developers, technical writers, or ensure third-party eLearning providers to:
- compare and contrast the characteristics of the targeted learners and those of the eLearning course.
- identify the learner environment
- understand individualism versus collectivism
- be familiar with the unique characteristics common to all learners across the work cultures, as well as the specific learning styles and preferences for each culture
Jerome Bruner said, in The Relevance of Education: “Pedagogical theory is not only technical but cultural, ideological and political. If it is to have any impact, it must be self-consciously all of these.” Possible negative consequences of not investing in a global eLearning strategy can include:
- Negative learner attitude towards culturally inappropriate content
- Loss of meaning because of non-globalized English
- Retraining costs because of cultural oversights
- Loss of trust and relationship between two offices
- Off-the-shelf course can’t be adapted to cultural needs
- Lost time spent on an inappropriate course
- Confusion over expectations
- Dichotomy between American and target regions’ needs
- Time needed to acquire or create new course
To avoid this, take time to know your audience. Make use of in-country partners, an effective localization agency, and/or learn from competitors’ mistakes. Your up-front investment may save your budget from costly damage control later on.
Photo attribution: algogenius