Today’s internet-driven business world has made it more common for companies to employ workers in multiple locations, whether across the country or around the world. According to Upwork’s Future Workforce Report, 63 percent of companies have remote employees, and fewer than one in 10 managers believes it is important for all personnel to be physically present in the same office.

This trend toward a dispersed workforce renders traditional classroom-based employee training so expensive and impractical as to be obsolete – especially considering rapidly evolving and emerging technologies that demand continuous learning and upskilling.

E-learning is the obvious solution for distance learning. However, simply producing and posting a playlist of training videos online is not the best strategy. Here are five common e-learning traps and how you can bridge geographic gaps at the same time you bridge skills gaps.

1. Using One Method to Train Them All

Because of its consistency and repeatability – regardless of time or location – e-learning makes a much better solution than classroom training for training dispersed employees. However, not everyone prefers to learn from self-paced videos. Some people prefer live instruction, in which case a live virtual classroom would be a better modality. Others gain the most from social interaction and would benefit from an online collaborative forum.

There is no single best way to train everyone, nor on every topic. In a Wired article, neuroscientist and science writer Christian Jarrett writes, “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.” Whether it’s the learner or the subject matter that determines the preferred online method, blended learning is often the best solution, because it provides the variety and flexibility that employees (especially global ones) demand. Online blended learning optimizes upskilling at a distance by enabling workers to learn at the pace and in the ways that work best for them.

2. Getting Lost in Translation

Today’s automatic translation tools make it easier than ever to globalize e-learning content. However, when creating instructional videos or graphics for use across multiple languages, there are several issues that even the most accurate translations can cause or exacerbate. These risks include:

  • Character and audio expansion: Sometimes, text translated from English simply won’t fit in the space or duration that’s available on the screen, whether it’s for subtitles, charts or graphics, or voiceovers on clips. Provide free space in graphics and at the bottom of the frames for subtitles, and have on-camera presenters stand still after speaking to allow translations to catch up before the next clip.
  • Acronyms and jargon: Many acronyms and buzzwords can be difficult to circumnavigate in multilingual training. This issue is true even for American English versus the English spoken in the U.K., India and other “countries divided by a common language,” as George Bernard Shaw is said to have written.
  • Untranslatable words: There are a few common English words, like “trade-off” or “cheesy,” that have no direct translation in some languages.

Avoid cultural misunderstandings and blunders from creeping into your training. For example, opening a training video by showing the instructor with his feet casually propped on the desk (showing the soles of his shoes) could be offensive to learners in the Middle East. Even something as simple as a cartoon hand making an “OK” gesture or “thumbs up” may carry an unrecognized or insulting meaning in a  different culture. Before rolling out your e-learning program, ask someone from each anticipated training location or culture to review your finished courseware (or at least your scripts). Another way to ensure the dialectical and cultural integrity of your training is to offer a blended learning solution that includes a live virtual classroom option led by a local instructor.

3. Lacking Clear Learning Objectives

When choosing or designing any learning and development program, start with a clear understanding of the executives’ and employees’ goals for the training. Aligning these objectives becomes especially important when expanding training on a global scale. Questions to ask include:

  • What training should all employees in every region undertake?
  • Are there specific technologies or skillsets that only employees in one location need to learn?
  • Are there specific state or country-specific regulations that mandate training or certification?
  • What training or topics are valued more by employees in one location compared to others?
  • What technological infrastructure does the training program require, and what platforms and delivery options would be best, considering any deficiencies faced by each region?
  • What is the global training budget?

Being clear about all learning objectives and making these goals clear to all managers and participants helps to motivate employees, gain leadership support, and manage the overall cost of the program. A quality blended learning system offers the advantage of flexible online modalities as well as a learning management system (LMS) or similar dashboard through which both local and central managers can administer and monitor training.

4. Playing the Waiting Game

Once you have established your organizational and employee training goals and developed and tested the program, e-learning will enable your employees to engage in the coursework at any time. One of the most effective capabilities of e-learning is the ability to parse course content into microlearning elements. Chunking instructional material into smaller units improves comprehension and retention and is especially helpful for dispersed learners who may face technology limitations or translation issues. Microlearning also enables just-in-time learning, so employees can quickly upskill in a specific topic or technology to solve a problem or accomplish a goal.

5. Training in a Vacuum

An effective e-learning program is not simply a static library; it’s a process, as much for managers and instructional designers as for the employees. The process begins with understanding your learners and how they are different, based on their locations, language, culture, objectives, technologies and preferences. For example, while Americans may favor group discussion, learners in some Asian cultures may expect content to be delivered solely by an instructor. Survey your employees in all locations, and then monitor learning progress through an LMS or periodic quizzes, surveys or informal manager/learner discussions throughout the training. Finally, measure the results after completion, and make improvements.

The Long and the Short of Distance Learning

Just because e-learning programs are easier to scale than other training methods doesn’t mean their development should end once they’re delivered. Make sure to foster a continuous learning culture where employees feel that they are not only gaining skills but that their needs and preferences are considered. By using a blended learning approach and showing you respect and adapt to their regional linguistic, cultural and personal norms, you’ll improve future learning outcomes and motivate and unify your entire global team, creating a borderless workforce.

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