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Going global – how do you train staff from Birmingham to Buenos Aires? – feature


This feature was contributed by Karina Ward, Marketing Manager at Netg.

Providing effective training to a geographically dispersed workforce in the UK can be a big enough headache for many training managers. Put this on a global scale and the challenge of giving every employee consistent access to quality training is magnified many times over, and the number of obstacles which have to be overcome is enough to bring on a migraine! How do you deliver training in multiple languages to different cultures? How do you measure and manage a learning programme on such a large scale? How do you ensure all your staff can easily access the training and that above all the training is consistent, so that your sales staff in Birmingham can access the same training as those in Buenos Aries?

Well, for many organisations the answer is simple – e-Learning. Global companies, including British Airways and Nestlé, are using e-Learning to provide their staff with high quality, localised and consistent learning, which can be accessed from virtually anywhere. A huge attraction to e-Learning for these companies is that it enables the delivery of the same training to staff in the same skills no matter where they are based. This ensures that training, for example in customer service or leadership skills, is exactly the same in Germany as it would be in Australia – a goal that is considerably harder and more expensive to achieve with classroom-based training. E-Learning allows the same training to be rolled out to staff worldwide via the company intranet, internet, LAN or on CD-ROM and in several different languages. It’s as easy as that.

Or is it? e-Learning has helped to overcome many of the obstacles involved with implementing a global training solution but even with new learning technologies, it’s not a piece of cake! For example, with IT systems capabilities varying from region to region, how do you ensure all your staff have equal access to the e-Learning? How do you ensure that your staff can access the e-Learning in their native language? How do you take into account not just language differences, but also cultural differences?

First, let’s look at delivery mechanisms. Even though you may have rolled out an e-Learning programme on your company intranet in the UK, this doesn’t mean to say you’ll be able to do the same in Malaysia. The development of a country’s IT infrastructure will undoubtedly affect your global e-Learning programme. For this reason it is important to choose an e-Learning solution which can be deployed by as many means as possible – i.e. via the internet, intranet, LAN, or CD-ROM for those countries where access to the internet or intranet is limited or not available. With multiple delivery options available you’ll be able to ensure that every employee can be an e-Learner.

But what about language differences? Well these are relatively easy to overcome as most providers offer e-Learning courses in several different languages these days. More problematic, however is accounting for cultural differences. If you have ever tried to hold an international training session you will know what I mean. The difference between teaching communication skills in Japan is worlds apart from teaching the same kind of skills in the US. To solve this problem, make sure you choose courses which have been properly localised rather than simply directly translated. The difference is that direct translations do not take into account cultural and semantic differences. Properly localised courses will be as good as the original version and should not be distinguishable from a course that could have originated in the destination country.

Cultural differences are more noticeable in soft skills courses. The role-plays, which are often used in online business and professional development courses to give the user opportunity for practice, are an ideal hiding place for the subtle differences between cultures. For example, a German worker is likely to be much more formal in his sales pitch than his American colleague. To overcome this barrier, make sure you choose a provider who works with local subject matter and linguistic experts, and who will ensure that courses are true to the country’s language and unique culture.

Although less complex to localise, courses in IT skills also require careful localisation processes. It’s not just the text which needs to be properly localised, it’s also the graphics which figure heavily in quality online IT courses. For example, an electrical plug depicted in technical courses will be different in many countries - just localising that picture gives a feel that the course is relevant to the exact needs of the user. It is these small details which can make all the difference to the quality of the learning experience.

It is also preferable to work with a learning provider that has offices world-wide. This will mean you have support locally to help you roll-out e-Learning in each region and someone on hand with an understanding of the local culture to help you adapt your programme accordingly.

A well thought out training strategy is obviously also a key success factor – don’t lose sight of this and ensure that your e-Learning programme supports your global business goals from the top down. Buy-in and in-put from each country involved is critical, so you can establish common goals, generic training requirements and the requisite IT capabilities.

Marketing and communicating your e-Learning programme in each region is also essential if you want to maximise usage. After all, there is no point having state-of-the-art e-Learning if your staff around the world don’t know about it. You can help drive usage through newsletters, incentives, or through identifying ‘e-Learning champions’ in each region who are local experts in the new learning programme and can help encourage take-up among colleagues. You also need to ensure that your marketing plan accounts for different training styles from region to region. For example, learning via the Internet is commonplace in many developed countries, whereas in regions that are less technically mature, e-Learning could be a completely new concept. You therefore need to be prepared to overcome resistance to e-Learning in areas where classroom-based training is the norm.

Training on a global scale is a huge investment so measuring its success is critical. Many providers offer tools to track and measure learning or learner management systems, which are invaluable for providing feedback on each region so you can iron out any problems. Regular measurement will help you to demonstrate the success of your programme and ultimately encourage wider take-up.

Finally don’t forget the human element. Although e-Learning is a great method of training on its own, it is much more beneficial if you blend it with other learning techniques, i.e. classroom-based instruction, as well as books and training manuals. In addition to providing motivation, support and advice, face-to-face instruction with a local who speaks the language and understands the culture can be invaluable.

So if you’ve been given the task of implementing a global learning programme, don’t reach for the aspirin! If you want to account for local language and cultural differences and varying IT infrastructures, while still maintaining global consistency across your training programme, e-Learning could well be the answer you’re looking for.


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