London in 1995, I delivered a series of TCP/IP and Internet basics
workshops to IBM’s senior level staff from around the world to
help prepare them for the coming eRevolution. Managers came from
as far as Russia and Egypt, each with a special set of concerns
and opportunities from their countries and business practices.
now we’d assume these classes would be delivered online. Why not?
What better way to learn about the Internet than by using the
years later, however, the reality is that elearning across national
boundaries doesn’t always work as smoothly as we’d like; good
programs are hard to find. Issues range from expectations to privacy
and our old friend time. Remembering my days in that London classroom,
I’ve taken a close look at the issues all companies face when
they consider moving content online to reach a global audience.
before digging into the issues and their implications, I want
to touch on the compelling reasons to settle these issues:
According to IDC, in a new study on globalization:
the percentage of American users will drop from one-half to one-third
in the next 3 years as global use increases; 92% of the world
doesn’t speak English; 43% of today’s Web users are non-English
speaking; and over the next few years, Internet use is expected
to grow by 79% in Asia, 123% in Latin America, and over 2000%
on the learning-front (when everything works) this means:
One e-savvy education department may be able to support people
all over the world.
Educational programs can be offered just in time, no matter the
No need for
those classrooms, right? Wrong, but at least, you may need fewer.
You are likely to save some travel costs (either from flying a
trainer in or flying students to another location).
Students may have access to a far wider set of programs than your
trainer(s) can deliver.
reasons aside, elearning is still at an early stage of development.
More is unknown than known. Working through all the details remains
difficult and problems only escalate when spread across miles,
languages, and cultures. Privacy, costs, language, localization,
culture, learning, and technology are all daunting, but critical
factors when going global. Many businesses forego worldwide reach
because of these issues.
education across the globe is no easier. I hope that the issues
raised here will help you and your organization (be it an internal
department of a multi-national, beginning to offer programs across
the globe, or a training vendor thinking... “Let’s go to China
next!”). These are just some of the critical factors you’ll need
to consider before you make your move.
you know when and where keeping records on learning blurs the
legal line? Eilif Trondson, Director of the Stanford Research Institute
on Demand program has spent much of the last
20 years working with organizations all over the world wrestling
with learning and technology. Trondson points out that the Internet
may give a boundary-less sense, but politics exist even in cyberspace.
“Although there are efforts underway to deal with privacy and
get some uniformity within the European Union, a quagmire can
occur from many situations such as, differing legislation from
country to country and even within countries with local authorities
the overwhelming pressure around ecommerce, research indicates
fewer than 15% of people using the Internet have ever knowingly
put their credit card or personal information online. Some argue
that the remaining 85% don’t realize their information is available
online if someone is looking for it today, Peoplemany
still very concerned about their privacy online. This partly reflects
an attitude that anarchy pervades the web. A recent Cheskin Research
study reports that many people believe there are essentially no
rules for the way information is managed and protected across
cyberspace. In the absence of rules, people feel a heightened
sense of risk when engaging in transactions. The same holds true for learners.
a company misuses your credit cards, you might be out $50*
and the time to clear up the matter. But, if your employer discovers
you’re short two credits to actually graduate or that you failed
the quiz on your company’s core product; you might be out of a
job. Many employers don’t even alert employees that they track
reminds us about the power of organizations built to protect the
rights of their members. “In general, privacy is a considerable
concern. One of the key reasons for this concern in Europe is
the strong role of the unions. The unions are very apprehensive
about accessible data such as when someone has taken an assessment
or test. Now that it’s possible [with Learning Management Systems]
to examine these individual results, they are even more concerned.”
spending the last decade living, working, and consulting in countries
outside the U.S., Kellee K. Sikes, head of Pioneer Technologies
LLC, recalls some client’ learning snafus. “Depending on the
country you work in, the laws of the land can be demanding. A
global elearning client found the German laws prohibitive to maintaining
detailed records on employee’s competency based on training exercises.
In France, to receive desired government subsidies, another client
found themselves under a mountain of required paper work detailing
each employee’s training plan.”
stored in learning management systems can include everything from
benign resume information and classes you’ve attended to test
scores and comparisons with your coworkers on attitude, aptitude,
and competencies. No one should treat this information lightly,
but I have yet to see instructions to managers requesting they
treat this information with the same sensitivity as salary or
performance data. Have you added that to your management training
Implications? Look at the differences between privacy legislation and regulations
(and talk to any affected union representatives) before tracking
employee’s competency and performance data. The human resources
department in the countries you are working in should be aware
of the “legs and regs,” as well as the overall climate for tracking
this information. Just because learning management systems seem
the efficient route in the U.S., they might be far from effective
in other countries.
you know where the money for elearning can come from?
Historically, in most European, African, Middle Eastern, and Asian
countries, the state provided education indirectly through tax
dollars. Companies in these regions find it hard to accept the
increased responsibility and costs associated with the evolving
many countries, there is a “different set of expectations around
who pays, which will involve quite a shift. It will also probably
take a bit of time before recognizing that, ‘Hey, this is my responsibility
to pay for and it’s not something that will just be given to me,’”
points out Trondson. “The idea of going out and buying elearning
modules over the Internet could be a much more difficult proposition
in Europe [and some other regions] than what we’ll see in the
Heguy, Vice President of eTraining for Intermanagers,
an executive-level content provider in Latin America, shared a
contrasting view. “That’s not
the case in Latin America because the state has not been very
efficient. There’s corruption, lack of resources, and our public
services are not very good. Education is far from ideal so people
don’t assume that you can receive good education for free.” Businesses,
he asserts, are very willing to pay for good, branded content,
from recognized authors and gurus. Just don’t expect them to pay
for materials where they can’t see the immediate value to their
blur the line even further, the British government is considering
setting up an e-university. If they go ahead with plans, it would
be a global initiative, offering elearning beyond the U.K. Government
involvement, at this level, brings up even more thorny issues.
private companies prepared to run into government initiatives
or private/public initiatives where there’s a fair bit of public
money involved? And whose money is funding this? The public monies
of one country are potentially in competition with the private
work of others. Are you ready?
Implications? If you envision selling elearning programs into some countries,
you may be surprised to find shrewd business men and women wondering
why they would want to spend money on your program when education
is something they expect to be provided by the government for
free. In other countries, you might be talking with the wrong
group; it’s the employee with the purchasing power. And in other
countries, without solid business results, or brand name recognition,
there’s no point in trying to sell anything at all.
you speak the languages of global elearning? Language
is often the first issue people think of when looking at offering
their programs to another country. Ironically, though, language
is often the last issue actually addressed. That’s too bad because
it’s the overriding issue affecting impression and receptivity.
may speak English [in Latin America], but when you have to do
everything in English, the challenge is much more daunting. And
if you’re going to introduce something that is somewhat of a stretchlike
elearningwhich is a different way of learning
for people who are used to more human interaction, you better
make it easy or as easy as possible,” notes Heguy. “We are developing
everything in both Portuguese and Spanish because people are much
more comfortable in the local language. Over the Internet, language
is a clear differentiator.”
has certain cost implications and when you don’t know how many
people who speak a certain language will be using your product,
it’s hard to justify the cost. How can you meet the learner’s
needs and still keep the programs from being incredibly expensive?
Companies have to decide whether they can afford the upfront cost
and who will pay it.
who translate are often shocked by the estimated costlet alone the reminder of ongoing translation to coincide
with updates and improvements along the way. The shock dissipates
though, when they consider the cost of first training in English
and then retraining in the local language because the English
training didn’t take.
with someone who has translated a software product (or even an
instruction manual) into another language to get a realistic picture
of the challenges. Not only are there vocabularies the translator
might not know, but they also must adapt sentence structure, significance,
and colloquialisms to convey equivalent meaning. One translator
compared translating a training program to translating poetry.
You have to capture both the direct message and word-transcending
Implications? The single strongest held belief around elearning is that
it will save companies moneynot force companies to spend more! As a result, many companies
try to hold off on translation investments for as long as possible,
until they see how they will provide a return. Be cautious, however,
with that plan. For people to use elearning programs and share
their wonderful experiences with others, you need to meet learners’
needs so they are comfortable with and willingeven
trying and working through the programs again and again. That
often means creating programs in the local language whenever possible.
you’ve covered language, what about the rest of translation?
To further complicate the translation process, some languages
have a number of distinct dialects. Spend time in Australia and
you’ll discover English words can take on very different meanings
than those in my hometown in the American Midwest. Localization
refers to the process of preparing written words in software or
documents for a very specific target language, or dialect, and
a Norwegian, says he sees language issues come up between two
countries most people think are very similar: Norway and Sweden.
“A Norwegian friend of mine looked at some learning materials
from Sweden and felt so uncomfortable with them he couldn’t use
them.” If that’s the case between two counties with similar cultures
and language, how must it be between other countries that have
even less in common?
far do you go to address local, regional, or national differences
within a language? And it’s not just
the language, but knowing the culture and mores, the usage and
tone. This is not just a rehashing of common personalization and
customization themes you see on the web or even those of learning
styles and language. Localization addresses how people look at
companies have begun to specialize in localization alone. They
localize both regular software or elearning programs to be better
accepted in different countries and within parts of countries
by different types of learners and within different cultures.
Booker, Director of Strategic Alliances at Lionbridge
Technologies, a well-respected localization
company, warns, however, “The Internet makes [companies] instantly
global, but not multilingual. Language is the most significant
barrier in the online international marketplace.” Lionbridge localizes
customer products in two ways: in readying code for double-byte
language translation (for languages such as Japanese), and in
translating content so that it makes linguistic sense. Not surprisingly, they find that most companies just look
for localization at the tail end of a project instead of considering
it in their design.
Implications? There’s more to going local than the translation of language.
Localization helps people feel the material is written for them.
If you don’t have expertise in local cultural and language differences,
consider partnering with a firm that specializes in localization...
but do that early on, not when you’re ready to roll out your program.
You’ll need to localize some content, adapt other content
to the audience, and create unique local content along the way.
you know how to culture your elearning? Culture is defined
as the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, beliefs,
institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
These can be from a particular period, class, community, region,
or population and particular to a category, such as a field, subject,
or mode of expression.
of our perception of education (category) comes from our elementary
education years (particular period), which likely varied widely
through the world (as a result of class, community, population,
instance, those who grew up without any exposure to technology
rely more on personal interaction. For some, it can be quite stressful
to get used to doing everything online when they are accustomed
to learning from people they can see and hear.
reports, “Interaction will be an ongoing issue in Latin American.
We have to overcome [our customer’s] fear over responsiveness
and having a teacher available. There will have to be education
on those issues for elearning to be successful.”
Asia, school often entails sitting quietly in a classroom while
the teacher offers gems of wisdom. “You won’t find any interactive,
energized classrooms in Japan,” points out, Beth Scofield, LiNE
Zine managing editor who taught English as a second language in
Japan for several years. To make the differences painfully clear,
she tells the story of delivering a lecture to several hundred
businesspeople in Japanese, accidentally substituting the word
carrot for people throughout the speech. “No one snickered or
gave me any indication I’d made such a horrible faux pas. That
wouldn’t be the case here. At the end of the talk, when I realized
I’d made the mistake, I apologized (and the crowd laughed with
me) but until they saw I had realized my error their etiquette
kept them quiet and still.”
other parts of Asia, the idea of an entirely online classroom
hasn’t caught on either, but in a culture of quiet, students may
feel completely unequipped to answer questions in front of their
peers. In contrast, online learners can contribute to forums,
chats, and virtual whiteboards in an anonymous way. eLearning
can provide a more collaborative, interactive environment than
plays a role in topic choice and appropriateness, too. For instance,
Alex Goldhagen, Executive Officer with Australian-based Advanced
Strategic Technologies points out that, “While the business
landscape differs only somewhat in Australia, the mental and emotional
drivers of the people who work here are strikingly different from
those in the US. Our clients and employees would not immediately
understand the need for courses on racial integration or acceptance,
drug abuse, equal opportunity or office politics.” Instead, Goldhagen
he says, “there is a recognised need for education programs that
help our people and organisations compete in the global market.
Many Australian businesspeople feel a certain degree of inferiority
to other western nations, particularly the U.S. And, since much
of the market-leading technology is developed in the States, this
need to keep up is exacerbated still further.”
style? “If something has too American of a style, very ‘touchy
feely,’ too personal, or even sentimental, people may mock it
[in Latin America],” cautions Heguy. “There is a latent bias against
the U.S. culture where the economy is efficient and you don’t
have to worry about making the telephones work or about public
services that cost a fortune.”
living in Eastern Africa, I learned first hand that a society
with very few resources and little ability to change their situation
focuses on areas that other countries might not even notice. When
needs are basic, you worry about small things.
Grebow, President of the Readiness Company and an experienced
worldwide training manager points out every culture does not consider
elearning a desirable way to learn. “Learning on your own is not
an acceptable practice all over the world nor is it viewed as
the best way to learn. Sending an employee to class is a perk,
a way that your manager said you were doing a good job and were
ready to move on and learn at the company’s expense with an instructor
in a class of your peers. eLearning can be viewed as a way of
losing face or not being in the same league as those who went
to instructor-led programs. In other cultures, though, it might
be the key to success for both an employer and the culture itself.
For example, with the use of elearning and telecommuting, companies
can began to employ Native Americans who are preserving their
culture by living on isolated reservations with other members
of their tribe.”
humor is often local. Despite the fact that TV shows like “The
Nannie” can survive in foreign markets longer than they do in
the U.S. what’s funny to one culture won’t likely elicit the same
result in another. You have to pay attention.
Language and localization may reach your bottom line fast, but
ignore culture and you’ll sink from the weight of the world. Since
you face a large enough challenge asking people to attempt something
new, try your hardest not to offend them along the way. Unless
you’re creating different material in each culture, keep your
stories, analogies, metaphors, humor, and even design as neutral
Do you know what it means to make time for elearning?
People around the world are sensitive to learning business-related
matters on their own time and being asked to learn more on top
of already-packed workloads. The issues may be different in various
parts of the globe, but they all lead to the same concern. The
line between working and personal time has blurred forever.
Brückner, with the Learning Resources Centre at the United Nation’s
Development Programme (UNDP), has created an Electronic
Platform for Learning in-house with tools and
Knowledge Navigator’s MyLearningPlace
that rival any platform I’ve seen in flexibility and reach. But
even given his platform’s power, Brückner lists time as the number
one concern of his internal customers, UNDP employees around the
world. He points out that, “People are overwhelmed with their
day-to-day work tasks and believe they don’t have time to start
something new even if it’s at their fingertips. It’s not automatically
clear to everyone that accessing and using the electronic platform
actually saves time.’
is where our learning managers and the people that we train in
each country office come in. These are real people in each country
being trained as learning coaches. They take on the message. If
push comes to shove, they can talk to people and say, ‘Sit back
and relax. Nobody is going to squeeze you any more. This is good
for you, so let’s try to check it out.’ That wouldn’t be possible
if we only had an electronic platform.”
Argentina, Heguy offered a similar experience with his company’s
new elearning programs. “People use it a lot at work: they stay
for one more hour or they arrive one hour sooner than they did.
They can work at home, but when they get home, they have the family.
They also have to pay for the line or if your company provides
a line, they tie up a line. If they pay, it’s not a flat fee.
Family is very important here so this is not just about technology.”
Europeans are also quite apprehensive about when they will find
the time to learn in the workplace and whether their companies
are going to assume they’ll go through most of the training at
home. Remember the unions mentioned earlier? Think they aren’t
concerned about people taking work home?
some European experiences, Sikes shares a common struggle for
workforce training. “Asking people to work on their own time can
be against the law. If the law says the workweek is 35 hours then
it is 35 hours, period. In many parts of Europe, if you want the
training done, you have to fit it in during the workweek or be
willing to deal with consequences that can include paying over
time or fines.”
Implications? We are all short of time and the blurring of the boundary
between work and leisure is a fact. People are taking work home,
including what they need to learn, whether they want to or not.
This is something employees everywhere progressively face. To
overcome the objections of harried employees, address time head
on. Answer how long your program will take, how it can be completed
within the workday, and break programs down into modules that
can be completed one at a time between other activities. Recognize
that different cultures have different expectations and beliefsmake an effort to learn the time values they live by.
you have the technology for elearning? Earlier
this summer, the elearning department at a worldwide accounting
firm learned that the accountants in some other countries weren’t
using spreadsheets to tabulate accounts. In Malaysia and Thailand,
for instance, computers would have cost three or four times a
worker’s annual salary. It was more cost-effective to hire people
to manually balance the books. While this department assumed their
global coworkers had access to computers, that was far from the
the opposite side of the spectrum, several multinational companies
have given all of their employee’s computers for home and personal
use just to get them familiar with the technology. Nothing is
consistent when it comes to technology around the globe.
may have one of the most daunting challenges. “The world
is very complex and has many hot spots. UNDP is in all of these
hot spots. Picture a person in Eritrea, Somalia, or Myanmar trying
to learn online? They simply don’t have the access they need to
use the system in its best way. But if it’s not provided for them,
they are ticked off. If I promised you can take an online course
and your connection is 9,600 baud, you’d be very frustrated, too.
Technically, we’re between extremely good and extremely bad connectivity,
so we try to replicate at least parts of our environment and send
it out on CD-ROM to the country office so it can be installed
locally. That’s obviously not possible with the offerings that
require active online participation, but at least it works for
our database driven content.”
56 kbps and browser equivalent to Internet Explorer 5 has become
the lower-common denominator in the U.S. 26 kbps is considered
speedy in many countries: IE or Netscape 3.0 on a 486 machine
is the norm.
adds, “Our hypothesis is that bandwidth and hardware problems
will go away so we cannot hold ourselves back just because a few
countries still have them. Too many of the countries have infrastructure
problems because management has not made it the number one priority.
First they often have to overcome technophobia to be willing to
try [the electronic platform] and find one offering that really
helps no matter its performance.”
bandwidth in some counties holds programs back, Trondson offers
a different angle. “If Sweden meets its goal of having broadband
to all the households by the end of next year, that introduces
some very interesting possibilities for testing out broadband-based
elearning and seeing what people like and don’t like once they
can get anything fast. It’s important for elearning companies
to think about where they should experiment and set up test beds
for elearning.” Sweden would be ideal. So would Singapore with
its nationwide broadband infrastructure, Singapore ONE.
technologies have wider adoption in other countries that would
prove well suited for trials. When I ask companies for their mLearning
strategies, I’m greeted by blank stares or excuses that mobile
devices are not popular enough yet to develop a strategy. While
handheld or mobile devices may not yet be ubiquitous in the U.S.,
they are in Japan and many Nordic countries. The Japanese have
long been interested in experimenting and testing out hardware
devices. Why not try out new programs there in anticipation of
the coming boom in other regions?
Technical infrastructure and hardware pose conflicting challenges.
Based on the part of the world you are targeting, you’ll need
to make different considerations. Just don’t assume that the U.S.
is ahead of everyone else. Take the opportunity to identify if
the countries you are targeting offer you opportunities for testing
and trying new delivery platforms or ways to work with very low
bandwidth. Be at least as resourceful as you learners have to
concluded my interview with him by saying, “There are lots of
culturally different ways of learning, where you combine some
of these different elements to make the whole thing more interesting,
particularly for a given audience, a given age bracket, a given
cultural or ethnic background. I think we have a hell of a long
way to go but I’m kind of optimistic. Enough innovative people
out there can see they can make a buck on this if they do it right.
I hope they will. We’re just in the beginning. Two, three, four
years from now we’ll see some very interesting things that will
be much more effective in terms of providing learning that is
meaningful and can, in fact, have an impact on performance.”
doubt elearning across the globe introduces more variables and
more potential problems than targeting your content and message
to a local audience you know well. You will need to pay even more
attention to testing, quality control, and creating a user-centered
design. But if you’re willing (or required) to make the adjustment,
your return can be of proportions never seen before in the education
field. I await your success and your stories.
card companies only hold the customer responsible for the first
$50 of unauthorized use.
Conner is CEO of the Learnativity Alliance and Editor-in-Chief
of LiNE Zine. Armed with an undergrad degree in International
Relations, she intended to go into Third World Politics and is
not quite sure how she landed here. Along the way, she’s lived
and worked in 10 counties, across 3 continents. Too bad she hasn’t
found a reason yet to brush up on those Swahili skills. Write
to her (preferably in English) at email@example.com
or visit her on the web at www.learnativity.com.
Copyright (c) 2000-2004 LiNE Zine (www.linezine.com)