How Effective Is Your Global eLearning?

How Effective Is Your Global eLearning?
Vladimir Sukhachev/
Summary: RWS explores the barriers to effective eLearning for organizations with learners from around the world and sets out how to overcome them. We show how talking to people in their own language, cultural nuance, and adopting appropriate learning styles are all key to global eLearning success.

What Does Success Look Like In eLearning?

For some, it might be that the course objectives were covered. For others, it might be that the course ran on time without a technical hitch. Or it might simply be that the attendees really enjoyed the course.

Fundamentally, although all of the above are important, the true measure of whether an eLearning programme is successful or not is whether attendees understand the content and then apply what they have learnt to real-world situations.

“I don’t understand…”

Successful outcomes are built on clear understanding. Without understanding, all the effort that has gone into producing and delivering the content is wasted.

Many factors impact the level of understanding attendees have—some of which you can control, others you can’t.

An individual who struggles to focus and pay attention is something you can’t control. A poor internet connection that keeps cutting out is clearly beyond your control. And interruptions or a noisy environment are again not something you can control. However, making sure the content is pitched at the right level for attendees is something you can control. Delivering impactful content that engages the audience is within your power. And ensuring the content is clearly structured and communicated is in your control.

If you want your eLearning to be successful, it’s obvious that you should do everything you can to minimize the elements that hinder understanding and do everything you can to aid understanding with the elements you can control so that attendees understand, take in, and adopt what they have learnt from the content.

Talking My Language 

One of the biggest barriers to understanding for multinational organizations is language.

Although languages such as English, French, German or Spanish dominate the international corporate and business worlds, and although much of the global workforce may be comfortable doing business and communicating over email or telephone in one or two of these languages, the reality is, for most of the global workforce, these are not their native languages.

From an eLearning perspective, this is a problem.

It is an indisputable fact that we retain knowledge and learn much better in our first language.

Culture, personal background, and language, all influence our perception of communication and learning. We share with other members of our culture tangible things like the way we dress, a favourite dish during certain celebrations, the way our houses are built, or our national sport or pastime.

But we also share the way we behave, verbally and non-verbally—for example, what we find or don’t find appropriate to say in certain circumstances, or the use of gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, or proximity with other people.

“Don’t Forget About Me”

Over the last decades, training courses and programmes for the corporate world have often been developed or designed in English-speaking markets such as the US or the UK—non-native English speakers were, and usually still are, an afterthought.

This Anglocentric approach to cultural elements appears most frequently in examples, role-playing situations, or graphic elements in eLearning materials. It is often the case that during localization and translation, entire sections of videos need to be replaced—not just because they are not culturally relevant or meaningful for some target markets, but sometimes because they are offensive or taboo for the audience.

The common approach of developing content in English first and then localizing it across different languages just doesn’t take these factors into consideration.

Training aimed at an entire company workforce will rarely consider the differences between employee roles and locations, their previous experience or knowledge of the subject, or their specific cultural requirements.

As corporate training becomes less focused on technical or step-by-step processes and instead focuses more on skills such as leadership, mindfulness, diversity, sustainability, emotional intelligence, or employee wellness, it becomes ever more important to design training experiences that consider a learner’s language, cultural background, and learning style. The success or failure of eLearning content at a global level increasingly depends on the degree to which the content is adapted for the audience.

It may not be realistic to build separate training experiences for every different learner type and role within an organization, but it is possible to provide learners with a far more personalized and market-centred approach. By doing so, you increase the likelihood of your eLearning being as successful in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Dubai as it is in Toronto, Sydney, and Dublin.

Adopt The Right Learning Style

Although language is one of the most significant barriers to understanding in global eLearning content, sometimes the problem is more fundamental—a failure to acknowledge and take into account differences in learning styles.

In countries such as China, Japan, or India, the emphasis is traditionally on conformity with the rules and regulations that students are expected to follow. Training is teacher-centred—students expect the teacher to outline paths of learning, the content, and what the course will cover. Structural learning situations are preferred, and assessment is predominately through examination.

And although some things are changing with younger learners, formality still prevails in these cultures—teachers or trainers are still revered and seen as authority. The method commonly associated with learning in these parts of the world is based on memorization and repetition.

Body language is also very important. In China, for instance, humour plays an important part for many trainers, but this rarely translates well for those not familiar with the culture and context.

It is also common for Chinese learners to use social media tools or technology that most corporate learning teams are not aware of or familiar with. For instance, for Chinese employees, WeChat is the most popular method of performing learning needs assessments.

In contrast to the conformity and formality typically seen in Asian learning styles, in English-speaking markets such as the United States, UK, or Australia, there is a much more individualistic approach to learning.

Teaching is generally student-centred, with the students playing an active role in their learning. Students are encouraged to be independent learners. Communication is much more explicit, and learners tend to speak out and question more. Preference is given to less formal learning situations, and assignments and problem-solving tasks are often preferred over examinations.

These differences in style and approach can and should be reflected in eLearning design and creation.

Bake It In From The Beginning

There is an increasing need, but also an opportunity, to rethink the way organizations approach training for global audiences located in different regions, markets, and languages.

It is not only about addressing the diversity and cultural differences of these—but also the fact that an individual’s learning style and the way they expect to receive and consume knowledge and training can differ and be influenced by their language and cultural background.

At RWS, we localize thousands of training hours a year into dozens of languages, and we are aware that localized courses often fail to achieve the results, impact, and engagement of the source English content.

When localization or translation comes as an afterthought, the effectiveness of the localized courses is often far from ideal. Development and creative teams are not always aware of or told that the courses will undergo translation. The result is that design and content decisions are often made without context, without any consideration of the need for the content to be adapted, significantly adding to the complexity and cost of the localization task.

When a training initiative is intended for a global audience in different regions and languages, we recommend that you involve your language and cultural consultants and partners early on in the process. They can work side by side with the instructional and graphic design teams to advise on what will and what won’t work in the different target markets. Our eBook, Creating Better Global eLearning Experiences, explains the process in more detail.

Learning That Lasts

Languages and cultures change and transmute over time. As do learning styles and learner behaviours.

Training teams that embrace this change and adapt their design methodologies by bringing their language and cultural consultants into the design process early, or who work with multinational teams of Instructional Designers in a collaborative environment, will be able to achieve much more effective and much longer-lasting learning experiences. Experiences that respect and adapt to the linguistic and cultural diversity of modern global workforces. Experiences that everyone can understand and engage with. And that’s what global eLearning success looks like.

Top 5 Tips

  1. To achieve lasting and effective learning experiences, we must speak to the learner in their own language.
  2. Language, cultural background, and previous experience, all affect how people learn.
  3. What works in one language won’t necessarily work in others.
  4. If your localized content isn’t achieving the results you want, ask your language partners for advice.
  5. Consider concurrent authoring in different languages as part of your multilingual learning strategy.
eBook Release: RWS
At RWS we help our customers break down the language barriers to connect with and communicate effectively with people globally. We help unlock global understanding.