Distant co-location of facilities provides many advantages in terms of costs, efficiencies and data security. However, when it comes to employee training, distance brings many disadvantages. Classroom-based training is expense and impractical, especially in multiple locations. E-learning technologies make it much easier to train a dispersed workforce. Unfortunately, just because it’s easy doesn’t make elearning automatically effective.
To ensure your company and your employees get the most out of your online learning and development program, here are five considerations and best practices for bridging skills gaps even across geographic gaps.
1. Incorporate multiple delivery modes
Quality elearning is not as simple as posting a series of videos on a shared drive. Not everyone can absorb knowledge or skills just from watching videos. Although convenient, self-paced videos often lack the power to keep viewers engaged. Plus, studies have shown that different people learn differently. These differences can be especially profound across diverse cultures, generations and languages.
Some people learn best from live instruction. A great alternative to on-site or off-site classroom training is to stream a live virtual classroom (LVC). Other types of learners gain the most from social interaction, such as an online forum.
Just as different people demand different learning mediums, so too do different skills. “Usually the most effective way for us to learn is based not on our individual preferences but on the nature of the material we’re being taught,” says Christian Jarrett in Wired magazine.
The best approach for addressing these differences is to administer training through a blended learning methodology. Blended learning enables variety and flexibility, optimizing training over any distance. Employees can train in the manner, at the pace (and place) that suit them best.
2. Design (not just translate) for multiple languages
Even with automatic translation tools driven by artificial intelligence (AI), adapting your training materials for other languages is complicated. It’s not just about changing words. Not only can some things get lost in translation, the translation itself can create its own problems for training global audiences, including:
- Expansion of characters and spoken words. Text translated into other languages sometimes doesn’t fit the available space on the screen or even in the time available for audio. For example, “speed limit” in German is Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung. This expansion can cause issues for subtitles, charts or voiceovers.
Solution: When you’re designing your videos or other learning materials that will be adapted for multiple languages, make sure you plan for enough space, both visually in the text and audibly in the duration of the narration. Use lots of solid-colored free space in graphics and in the lower-third portion of the video screen for subtitles. When shooting video of instructors, have them stand still after they’ve spoken a long phrase to allow any later audio translation to catch up. (You can trim this excess time out of the version in their spoken language.)
- Acronyms and abbreviations. Just so you know (for your information), such terms as JSYK and FYI often don’t translate well. Many acronyms may even be unfamiliar or have different meanings. This is true even for cultures that share a common language, such as English in America and India.
Solution: Always spell-out or say the entire word or phrase. Letters and abbreviations can cause confusion, not only for viewers but even for automatic translation algorithms. Keep an eye (and an ear) on your instructors. Advise them to avoid using undefined acronyms and jargon, and proofread your translations for any such terms that may have crept in naturally.
- Untranslatable words. Certain words in English simply don’t make sense when translated into some other languages. These include trade-off, cheesy, and even serendipity.
Solution: Before distributing your translated learning materials, run them past a native speaker of the language you’re intending them for.
- Nonverbal and cultural misunderstandings. Besides words and phrases, physical gestures can also hold problematic meanings between cultures. For example, an instructor showing the soles of his shoes, even casually, could be extremely offensive to learners in the Middle East. Hand gestures, like “okay” or “thumbs up” may also carry an unintended or insulting meaning.
Solution: Again, before publishing your training program to another country, have someone from that country or culture examine your content, specifically to spot any nonverbal or cultural gaffes.
Another way to improve your training program’s cultural sensitivity, as well as learner engagement, is to deliver it using a blended learning pedagogy that includes a virtual classroom option led by a locally-hired instructor in each training country.
3. Provide clear learning objectives
Before you begin designing learning program or procuring a third-party training provider, it’s important to decide and establish clear goals for the training, both for executives and the employees. This is especially important when expanding training on an international scale. To develop your goals, here are some questions to consider:
- What training is necessary for all employees, regardless of location?
- What specific technologies or skills are needed only by employees in specific locations?
- What if any government or compliance mandated training or certifications apply to specific states or countries?
- What unique training or topics do employees in different locations request?
- What are the technological infrastructure and equipment requirements for the training program, and can they be met by your different office localities?
- What is your global training budget?
Answering these questions ahead of time will ensure the most efficient L&D process or choice of a vendor. Blended learning again provides an advantage through its flexible online options.
4. Train when needed instead of waiting
Elearning eliminates the need to wait until you have enough employees together to make classroom training cost-effective. Whether local or remote, employees can start training as soon as they’re hired or when they or their managers desire them to learn a new skill.
“Chunking” educational content into smaller units not only improves comprehension and retention, it helps prevent technology or bandwidth issues that employees in some remote locations may face. Plus, it enables “just-in-time” learning—to solve sudden problems or accomplish ad hoc projects that demand a specific area of knowledge.
5. Use an LMS to improve engagement
A learning management system (LMS) or similar dashboard through which training could be administered and monitored by local and headquarters management alike. To be effective, an e-learning solution cannot simply be a static library for employees to visit.
Except for the few, purely self-motivated learners, employee training requires continuous oversight in order to ensure completion. An LMS enables managers to check in on each employee’s progress, regardless of location, and offer assistance and motivation.
Using gamification elements, such as a leaderboard that graphically displays employee or team progress and quiz results, can also help motivate learners through competitiveness and pride. Besides the obvious outcomes of completion and certifications, you should also measure your training results through surveys or even informal manager/learner discussions, both during and after the training. Use these results to learn from your learning program and demonstrate the ROI of your L&D.
Make your learning go the distance
With its flexible options and reinforcing qualities, blended learning makes an ideal answer for training and upskilling employees—wherever they work. When it comes to content, by recognizing, respecting and adapting to the regional linguistic, cultural, and personal norms of your global employees, you will improve not only learning outcomes but also motivate and unify your entire team.