With the past decade’s focus on the importance of employee learning, the training
industry has grown significantly, and many companies are now faced with the challenge of developing large-scale training for a global workforce. This is excellent news for both companies and designers who develop their training—but designing for a multi-cultural, geographically expansive audience has its challenges. With such a diverse audience, is it possible to develop training that has a consistent impact for everyone? Let’s examine some of the challenges—and solutions—for a project of this magnitude.
Understanding how cultural values affect learning.
The most important part of developing training for a global and culturally diverse audience is knowing who your learners are before making any design decisions. Some instructional tools that are common in American trainings, such as group projects and synchronous discussions, may not be as effective for cultures that value individual work or honor different sub-group hierarchies. Understanding and researching the values and learning styles of each culture before you begin the design process is crucial for making the training equally accessible for all members of your audience.
Finding the right delivery method.
In-person training is likely the first method to be crossed off the list of possibilities, unless your organization has the capability to hold sessions in multiple locations with facilitators of different backgrounds—a costly effort that still doesn’t address the possibility of developing one training for multiple audiences. So eLearning is likely your best bet. Cloud-based platforms and self-paced modules are often the most accessible for global audiences. Web conferencing can be helpful, but is often more difficult to navigate, because of interpreting processes and honoring wildly varying time zones.
Making language universal.
Preparing text for translation and universal access involves careful consideration of the ways that cultural biases, assumptions, and idioms permeate language. Humor, culturally or politically based references, and idioms should be avoided. Language should be brief, with the core purpose of being clear and coherent—not figurative or metaphorical.
Using stories in global learning.
While stories are universally helpful forms of learning, they are often difficult to incorporate into training for a globally diverse audience—the characters, situations, and outcomes may need to contain both broad and subtle variances to have full impact across different cultures. But that doesn’t mean they’re not possible. In fact, developing a library of stories that are effective for each audience is a wonderful way to incorporate story-based learning into training. It’s crucial that these stories are developed with experts in each target population, to both maximize impact and ensure cultural accuracy and sensitivity.
Translating the training.
Using a reputable translation service that can produce translations in multiple languages, rather than hiring out individual experts for each language, will streamline the process and save time. Before sending your content out, check for the “hidden” parts of your content that need translation, including video transcripts and embedded words on buttons (like “play” or “next”). If you link to external sources in the training, make sure these sites are accessible and readable for multiple audiences.
Using relevant images.
Images and graphics are a crucial part of eLearning. They have the power to contextualize information and infuse emotion into training, which increases engagement. But if these images aren’t relevant to everyone in your audience, they can be distracting and confusing to learners. Like the language in your course, images should be universal and free from culturally specific images—unless, of course, the content calls for it. (For example, you wouldn’t want to use a picture of a decorated pine tree to represent a work holiday, unless you are specifically talking about Christmas in America—and if that’s the case, you might consider whether the information is useful to all of your learners). You’ll also want to make sure your images don’t contain text (such as signs), which will be impossible to translate because they are embedded in a photograph.
Note that there is a huge advantage to examining the underlying assumptions and culturally-based decisions we make when developing training: becoming a more attuned designer. Rather than viewing a project like this as a challenge, we could choose to see it as an opportunity to become more inclusive and sensitive for our learners.
For more tips on designing learning environments, check out these blog posts:
eLearning in the 21st Century
Designing Culturally Inclusive Learning Environments
The 4-1-1 on Section 508