Adaptive learning platforms have grown in popularity in recent years, both in the classroom and in the workplace. Training Industry research found that 32% of learning leaders are using adaptive learning to a moderate extent and 22% are using it to a large extent. And in the higher education context, a 2017 survey by the Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO) found that 92% of CAOs agreed that adaptive learning technology could improve learning outcomes.
This emerging technology has the potential to upskill employees in an area that has vexed employers for decades: language learning. To be effective, both in-person and virtual language learning programs must adjust for individual learner proficiency, provide lessons in a sequence that is responsive to learners’ performance and needs, and facilitate language development in a context that is relevant and interesting to the learner. There are numerous modalities involved in mastering a language and, by improving learners’ reading, listening, speaking, grammar and vocabular skills, adaptive learning can address each and every one of them.
The need to operate in a common language is critical in our increasingly globalized world of work. In a survey of global corporate executives by the Economist Intelligence Unit, two-thirds of respondents said that “differences in language and culture make it difficult to gain a foothold in unfamiliar markets,” and almost 90% said that profits, revenue and market share improve if “cross-border communication” improved.
However, three-quarters of Americans do not speak a second language. Why have companies — even the ones that have adopted other upskilling and training programs — largely avoided offering language learning to their employees? Part of the reason is that language learning seems so intractable. We have grown accustomed to outmoded pedagogical models rooted in translation and conjugation that, according to learning scientists, bear little resemblance to how we actually learn languages.
A growing number of employers have found that adaptive technology can effectively scale immersive language learning. Rather than focusing on isolated vocabulary lists and conjugations, personalized language learning tools offer contextualized examples of authentic language, unlocking the potential of employees who may have strong technical skills, but lack the language skills needed to thrive in a global organization.
Now, let’s evaluate how some organizations have implemented adaptive, personalized language learning training:
Chobani, a major yogurt manufacturer, knew that limited English proficiency would lower the productivity and performance of its immigrant and refugee employees. But it also knew that many employees could not commit to a traditional community college or English as a second language (ESL) course due to family obligations, irregular schedules, long work hours and additional responsibilities.
So, in partnership with Workforce Development Institute, Chobani took a new approach with 15 of its refugee employees in upstate New York. For six months, these employees had access to computers equipped with a personalized language learning platform while working on the production floor. Informed by Chobani materials and everyday workplace conversations, the online and mobile training resulted in higher proficiency, a more positive company culture, salary increases and, for one of the participants, a promotion.
Campari, a multinational beverage company, took a similar approach to help employees learn the language of business. With more than 4,000 employees across the world and a global clientele, English proficiency is important for professional growth and customer relations at Campari.
Campari enrolled its Brazilian employees in an eight-month pilot program to develop English skills to support their everyday job duties, participation in conferences, and communication with colleagues and clients. Learners completed a minimum of 48 self-paced activities and two live classes per month. The content was aligned with each learner’s personal and professional goals and interests, and was pulled from current events, political articles and lifestyle magazines.
At the beginning of the program, 61% of the group were at beginner and high-beginner proficiency levels. After eight months, 57% of the learners had already reached low-intermediate proficiency. Learners rated their satisfaction with the program at 4.5 on a five-point scale. Now, Campari is expanding the program across the company.
Grundfos is a manufacturing company with 18,000 employees spread across 80 countries. As part of a long-term objective to build a customer-centric and collaborative culture, Grundfos and Voxy designed over 150 custom lessons for employees using company policies, onboarding documents and product specifications.
This self-paced, adaptive platform delivered 50,000 hours of content in addition to providing live, certified instructors available 24/7 and a sophisticated reporting tool to monitor progress and return on investment (ROI). Nearly 90% of Grundfos learners improved their English proficiency scores, and training executives have been using analytics and data to track qualitative feedback that indicates the growth of a positive learning culture.
In today’s tight labor market, language learning programs can give companies the unique ability to promote workers from within to fill vacant roles, surfacing new talent pools that would otherwise be out of reach. The idea that language learning is only necessary for a particular type of company is a myth. Any global company that is creative in its approach to upskilling could use language learning to drive business results and help employees develop valuable professional — and life — skills.