By 2050, the world’s population will have increased to 9.7 billion people. Thanks to ongoing advances in technology, millions of these individuals will operate and work remotely for international businesses who will have their headquarters based on a different continent – or even a different hemisphere. Indeed, for many this is already their reality.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2014 and 2024, the number of interpreters and translators employed in the USA is projected to increase by approximately 29 percent. Workers who have the ability and knowledge to converse in multiple languages and to understand global cultures will be in high demand. Consequently, students at higher level institutes around the world are being actively encouraged to study languages and to avail every opportunity to travel abroad.

So, what is the alternative for those who have already completed their studies and joined the workforce? How can companies that have joined the global market manage to cultivate and develop global, multilingual teams? The secret increasingly lies in embracing the power of digital training solutions.

Maintaining a high standard of training worldwide

Online training solutions allow members of a global, multilingual team to access and undertake identical training to their international colleagues, in their own language, with regional and cultural differences considered. Online training means that team members and their managers can be confident that their level of training, knowledge acquired and assessments undertaken are on par with their peers.

The benefits of a blended training approach

Traditional classroom training can be a challenge, especially carried out on an international scale, or when training a multilingual audience. Relying on individual tutors to lead and instruct individuals within a classroom/workshop environment can be risky. Much depends on the quality and effectiveness of the teaching offered, and it can be difficult to foolproof the learning materials and delivery to ensure that all learners undertaking training experience the same standard of teaching. This is particularly the case when the training is being conducted either by an instructor who is not speaking in their mother tongue or is being undertaken by learners who may not be fluent in the language.

The importance of learning in your first language

Research conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) found that optimal learning within primary school children was achieved when conducted in the children’s first language. UNESCO and Oxfam have adopted a similar approach when educating adults within their initiatives in Africa and Afghanistan, among other destinations, and have recorded a high degree of success.

Therefore, it makes sense why in recent years business owners and companies have been striving to ensure that their learning initiatives and training approaches follow the same mandate. Indeed, many international businesses universally agree that training delivered in their mother tongue tended to be the most effective and had the greatest long-term impact on their workforce’s productivity and development. Yet, studies have demonstrated that at present, more than half of the international companies surveyed did not have a strong understanding of available translation services and how they could be utilized to help improve their internal and external business correspondence.

Furthermore, given that the provision of a laptop or mobile device and Wi-Fi enables workers to proactively embark upon their online training experience, as well as create and develop their own e-learning courses, the question has now been posed: How do we create effective learning for a global, multilingual team?

The answer lies in considering two key factors:

Consistency: When delivering training, consistency is essential. Learners must receive the same key messages, especially in relation to activities that must be completed in accordance with legislative practices or in a prescribed fashion, such as health and safety procedures.

Culture: When designing online training, it’s important that the variations which exist between differing cultures in terms of language, learning approach and instruction are identified and addressed. For instance, audiences based in the USA prefer an individualistic approach whereas Guatemalan audiences prefer a more group-centric approach.

Addressing cultural differences in global training programs

Learning designers need to choose the most suitable strategy to create effective training for global, multilingual teams, as outlined below.

  1. Culturally Neutral

This strategy is favored by many global organizations. The e-learning materials are specifically designed to be “culturally neutral.” Signs, symbols, images or illustrations that indicate or suggest particular affiliations with certain areas/cultures, or which may be deemed offensive or unsuitable within certain cultural contexts, would not be included. Colloquial language or abbreviations and recognizable cultural references would also be avoided. Such a strategy is generally favored as the training will be universally identical and delivered in a simple and direct manner.

This “one-size-fits-all” approach will intentionally meet all appropriate international employer guidelines, and thus prove exceptionally cost-effective for the organization, as there will be no need to create local variations. Possible negative connotations associated with this strategy may include the risk that the learning materials are considered bland and prove difficult for the instructors and learners to engage and utilize.

  1. Localization

Juxtaposed with the aforementioned “culturally neutral” strategy. This approach will ensure e-learning materials are designed to specifically include local cultural inputs. This can range from delivering the e-learning materials in the primary language of the local geographical area through to the inclusion of culturally specific references. Positives of this strategy include creating targeted e-learning that encourages learners through colloquialisms and cultural references to engage fully with the training content as they feel it is wholly relevant to them. However, possible negatives may include the fact that it limits learner’s experience of other cultures and, when implemented correctly, may prove quite costly to create numerous cultural variations of similar training materials.

  1. Cultural Integration

Cultural integration strategies are now frequently incorporated into online training for global, multilingual audiences. This strategy aims to create a single culture-rich strategy that recognizes and facilitates cultural diversity among learners. Learning designers ensure relative cultures through tools such as questionnaires to identify key cultures and the range, and preference, of learners toward learning styles, etc.

Frequently considered the most challenging strategy to adopt, cultural integration requires effective communication and insight provided by insiders within both the corporation and the culture who can guide learning designers in terms of the target audience and how to avoid misconceptions or prejudices associated with cultures. When successfully created, however, the training material can be powerful and can result in an engaging, exploratory and multilayered e-learning course.

Getting global, multilingual training right

The need for effective learning for workforces is universal and will continue to become a greater fixation and concern for many international and global organizations in the coming years. With a blended learning approach now widely considered the preferred training method for contemporary companies, it makes sense that learning designers must now turn their attention to developing and refining their strategies when developing online training for global, multilingual teams. Working in conjunction with company insiders and subject matter experts (SMEs), as well as insiders familiar with cultural frameworks, the future of online training is about to become increasingly effective and exciting.