Caught up in the worldwide web?

New research on the effects of globalisation and e-learning will force
training professionals to reassess how their material will be received across a
range of countries and cultures

The concepts of "global industries", "global markets"
and "global economies" are now familiar. But, increasingly, we are
having to get to grips with the globalisation of education, training and
development – learning in its widest sense – and its impact on the role of
training professionals.

The topic was aired in research at the annual conference of the National
Extension College this month, where Anita Pincas, of the University of London,
spoke of "the three Cs of globalisation – cognition, culture and

All need to be rethought now, she says, particularly as the use of the
Internet is exacerbating the differences in learning and linguistic cultures,
and trainers need to reassess the relevance of their programmes to local

E-learning is a potentially powerful tool and its use is set to grow. The
CIPD predicts that in the UK it will account for somewhere between a fifth and
a quarter of all training time by 2003. Developments in the US on the
standardisation of e-learning modules mean that a vast and exciting market is about
to open, with institutions like Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of
Technology making modules available on the Web that can be built into any
individual’s training programme.

"It’s going to make a huge dent in the global market as those brand names
are going to be very attractive throughout the world," says Martyn Sloman,
training and development adviser at the CIPD and author of the recently
published E-learning Revolution. "The question we have to ask is, to what
extent can this work globally?"

Key issues

Access is one of the issues that will dominate the debate. The other is
whether material generated in one country will be accepted in another.

John Burgoyne, professor of management learning at Lancaster University’s
Management School and policy research consultant at the Council for Excellence
in Management and Leadership, is sceptical.

"Harvard University believes quite seriously that it can take its high
brand and make it available worldwide. Whether it will pull it off, or whether
it will have to find ways of adapting material to the varying cultural contexts
in which it’s trying to implement it, remains to be seen. But I expect they
will encounter problems," he says.

Sloman is convinced that material in the "hard areas" of
high-level business strategy, policy, e-business and finance will be global. In
the case of "softer skills", he believes there is going to be some
useful global content, but the skill of trainers in helping the transfer of
generic material to the local context will be vital to the success of the
learning. Trainers can add value by writing additional material around a core
module and by ensuring there is the right blend of learning.

"What I envisage is people in, say, Malaysia having accessed and worked
through a selling skills module on a PC which could have been generated
anywhere in the world, then going into the classroom and undertaking exercises
where feedback is given by a local tutor," Sloman says.

Global e-learning is clearly not a panacea. In some cases the "not
invented here" barrier will be impossible to break down. Yet considering
the aspects of learning materials and methods which will enable them to travel
– or not – provides a useful focus for training professionals who need to
address multinational needs.

Right communication

Language is, of course, one issue, and it is not just a matter of accurate
translation, but getting the communication right. "People can be divided
by a common language," says Pincas.

"Even if people are fluent in English, they can still attribute
different meanings to the words and get the communication wrong in some way.
There’s a whole culture connected with language and a lot of perceptions you
can’t really pin down." Being aware of the problem and taking action to
minimise it is key.

For many organisations using a native speaker to deliver programmes is
essential. It is the policy adopted by Raytheon Professional Services which
runs culture change programmes and technical courses around the world. Paul
Swinscoe, RPS director of consultancy services, says, "We use local native
speakers who understand the culture and the nuances of the language. If it’s
not your native tongue, you don’t know all the richness of the language and you
can’t get the subtleties, especially when it comes to slogans and mnemonics.

"Sometimes you just have to abandon a method that works in English and
not try to force it to fit. There’s a difference between what a message says
and what it means, and you have to convey the meaning."

With English as its lingua franca, office facilities management company
Regus has few problems getting the training across, according to training
director, Ian McCourt. The key is translating the messages into the behaviour
of a particular culture.

"When you’ve got a multinational group, you have to take cultural
differences into account. It means that our trainers have to be on their toes
all the time," says McCourt. Adapting certain of its training modules to
fit the local culture was a challenge when everything was centrally based and
McCourt was Regus’ sole trainer, delivering programmes across Europe, the US,
South America and the Far East.

Field sales coaches

Now the company uses field sales coaches, who are aware of local perceptions
and train within the cultural context, which makes learning more effective.
Regus develops packages in the UK with input from overseas trainers on key
issues in the field. Material is trialled and evaluated in the relevant country
and modified back in the UK if necessary.

"The reason we keep the production unit here is to maintain global
standards and ensure that Scandinavia is trading and working in the same way as
Buenos Aires and Los Angeles," says McCourt.

"But programmes have to run within the fabric of the country itself and
without those coaches and trainers out there, we wouldn’t have been able to
achieve what we’ve done."

Cultural differences can be huge, even within the western world, let alone
between the West and the Middle and Far East. Culture influences how a person’s
mind works, how people behave and how they see the world and it can determine
the success or otherwise of a training method.

"If you’re trying to deliver training in sales techniques, for example,
the way the Germans and people from Arab countries go about selling and the way
their mental processes work are quite different," says Swinscoe. "So
where the Germans may say, ‘This is great for us’, the Arabs would say, ‘We
don’t know what you’re talking about and it’s offensive to us’. It won’t fit
their culture.

"Likewise, the Germans are quite different from the Italians in the way
they operate, and if you try to take one of those ‘touchy feely’ programmes to
the Germans, you have to recognise that you can’t get very far, whereas the
Italians will join in with no problem at all.

"If you don’t recognise the differences in the first place, you’re
doomed, and if you don’t account for them, you’re doomed."

People’s level of participation in group discussion is another culturally
determined factor which trainers need to realise. When Burgoyne ran learning
events in China, he found it almost impossible to use the lecture/discussion
approach which normally works well in the West. "In some contexts in
China, there’s an iron rule that people sit in absolute silence and respect for
the lecturer. When we twigged this, we turned the course round and ran it
entirely based on simulations, games and role plays. That way, we got
incredible levels of participation."

Last year, Burgoyne researched the case study method of teaching in UK
business schools and made similar observations. In group discussions, some
students were very active, while others took on more of a spectator role.

"There was a very strong correlation between Anglo-Americans being the
active people and the Far Eastern students almost reacting to it as theatre
and, I think to their shame, teachers didn’t attempt to do much about it,"
he says.

Multi-cultural perspective

"The main thing is for trainers to get the multi-cultural perspective
first. Once they’ve got that, they need to be able to identify the problem or
challenge and work on microsolutions to it in terms of training methods and
techniques. Having the awareness to see the issue is the key."

So what can trainers do to increase their awareness and become more
effective globally? For one thing, they should forge their own global networks,
experts suggest. Helen Vandevelde, writer and conference presenter on globalisation
and the future of work, insists, "Training and development managers can’t
hope to put tog-ether value-generating training programmes unless they live and
breathe the culture of interaction and networking. They need to immerse
themselves in cross-cultural experience.

"Cultural acclimatisation is the new teamwork dimension, and people
can’t understand the challenge without experiencing it first hand."

Pincas agrees, "Trainers should liaise with their fellow trainers in
whatever country they’re dealing with. We’ve gone far beyond the point where we
here in Britain can say we know how to do it and we’re just going to tell them.
Overseas partnerships and teamwork are part of the answer," she says.

"Globalisation is relatively new and it’s reached a sort of climax now.
It’s a very tricky field and nobody’s going to get it right, but we must do the
best we can.

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