Globalising e-learning: A world of opportunity

Organisations with a global presence will want e-learning provision that can be rolled out worldwide. Yet they must remember local niceties

Rolling out globalised e-learning systems requires paying due attention to local issues, but according to Vincent Belliveau, EMEA general manager for Cornerstone OnDemand, “there’s no need to reinvent the wheel each time.”

Online learning promises much as an answer to a global organisation’s training needs. After all, as long as the learner can access a browser and the internet, there’s no reason why they can’t sit through the course, is there? The internet may have helped to shrink the world, but there are still significant challenges to be met when rolling out a global learning programme. And one of the priorities is to ensure the learning is properly localised.

Local culture

Taking the local culture into consideration is a huge factor, says Maarten Staps, programme manager at Line Communications, which has offices in the UK and Switzerland.

“You must think global and act local,” he says. “Global organisations sometimes have a common organisational culture regardless of the nations in which they operate. Ikea would be a good example of a global organisation which is inherently Swedish and proud of it. Others prefer to give national culture a voice within the organisation while still adhering to the vision and values of the parent company.”

JJ van Belsen, UK sales director for Giunti Labs agrees that culture is important and organisations must also pay careful attention to the use and style of language. He knew of one company which used a German employee who had been resident in the US to translate an e-learning programme. But the style of German he spoke was too old-fashioned. “You have to remember that languages evolve,” he advises.

Authoring tool

Clearly it makes sense to involve local offices to ensure cultural fit and relevance, but bear in mind that multiple versions of learning programmes in other parts of the world can make it harder to control from a central learning and development function, unless you have the right systems in place.

Brighton-based e-learning and managed learning service provider Edvantage Group claims to have addressed this with its Coursebuilder authoring tool, which provides a single platform allowing multiple languages to be incorporated in one master programme.

Carole Bower, senior vice-president of learning at the company says: “Because it is server-based, multiple edits can be carried out across a number of countries. This means the brand and the look and feel of the programme remain consistent.”

Maximum value

Other products worth investigating include Giunti Labs’ third-generation eXact learning content management system (LCMS), which combines existing and new content in the same programme and enables users to get maximum value from learning content. GE Consumer Finance has used it to convert existing courseware into flashy contemporary stuff, using some standard web programming and, it says, this has helped increase the efficiency of e-learning content creation at its sites worldwide.

But learning and development professionals should thoroughly research the market when deciding on the best technology for a global roll-out rather than assume using an existing supplier will be the best route.

Belliveau says Cornerstone OnDemand is engaged in a number of second- and third-generation global programmes, not so much because roll-out first time around went wrong, but because of improvements in technology. One such is global leisure company Starwood Hotels & Resorts. It brought together e-learning, virtual classrooms and instructor-led training in one programme which was rolled out across its operations.

Control and continuity

Deploying blended learning around the world, however, is about far more than technology. The challenge of rolling out any programme with many component parts is to join them all together and maintain control and continuity, says Pete Bennett, chief executive and director of consulting at Buckinghamshire-based Learning Resources International (LRI), “so they do not become a series of “events” that are hardly interconnected”.

BAE and Saudi Development and Training, and AMPT Terminals, part of the Maersk Group, are using a blended model designed by LRI to deliver qualifications and management and leadership programmes (BAE across Saudi and AMPT globally). The blend includes various techno goodies. These include: virtual tutoring and work groups, communities of excellence, peer blogs and knowledge exchange repositories.

Local support is provided by regional learning and development and HR personnel.

“Support is the key, but support that is used to not just manage but to add to the process,” says Bennett. “In this manner, and by use of an integrated model, employees can still come together for critical ‘hub’ (centrally delivered) sessions periodically, but the whole process is tied together by the technology.”

Without doubt, advances in technology have enabled us to break down a huge number of barriers to global learning programmes. However, while it is easy to get carried away, Staps reminds us that advances in the western world are not necessarily adopted uniformly in global organisations.

“Issues around connectivity, bandwidth and the availability of software and plug-in features (such as video and audio) cannot be taken for granted for a global e-learning roll-out,” he says. “In Africa and certain parts of Asia, delivery by CD-Rom may still be the most effective way to reach people.”

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