Learning and development of employees is a key foundation for the success of many businesses. There are all kinds of arguments about why L&D is so important. There’s also some evidence that it improves innovation and performance (measured in sales growth). The majority of the US’s top-performing companies emphasize the role of L&D played in getting them to the top. Investing in employees also supports retention, which reduces the costs of replacement.
But it’s vital that organizations do the right kind of training and implement it correctly. Ineffective development programs essentially cost the business twice; once because of the cost of creating and implementing the training and twice because employee time is wasted if it’s spent on inadequate training rather than more productive activities.
Training needs to be constantly re-examined and refreshed, employee development strategies have to be re-evaluated as business requirements change. It’s a non-stop process keeping on top of training programs and policies.
Of all the ways to deliver training, e-learning is one of the most efficient. There’s evidence it can reduce the time needed to deliver training by between 40 and 60%. In a busy organization, this time saving represents vital time being released for employees to spend on their regular activities instead of in training sessions.
It reduces or eliminates the need to pay for training space, travel, accommodation and meals and refreshments associated with other types of training. But for most organizations, the key benefit is it’s less disruptive to ‘business as usual’ because less time is spent away from everyday tasks.
A changed workplace
There’s another reason why e-learning is increasingly popular: the rise of digital natives in the workforce means that an increasingly large proportion of employees of most organizations are highly comfortable with digital delivery of learning and, in fact, expect it. High acceptance of this style of learning has helped support the popularity of e-learning in the workplace.
There’s been another change in the last few decades; organizations are increasingly international in both their outlook and composition. Multinational organizations are flourishing and there’s much internal collaboration in these modern workplaces.
It’s also now highly common for organizations to have very diverse workforces, even if their operations are only domestic. That’s because international migration and workplace diversity have created a less homogeneous workplace.
Organizations that have diverse workforces need to recognize the need to adapt learning to make sure it’s as effective as possible for every employee. This could mean adapting both the message and the language used to deliver it in order to make sure it has the required effect on each person being trained.
It’s certainly true that people learn more effectively in their language of best fit. Delivering training in an employee’s mother tongue, or at least a language they are highly familiar with, is going to make sure they are more likely to engage effectively with the training content. It’s also important that the message is transcreated so it’s culturally relevant for them.
This means adapting course content to take into account the recipient’s cultural context. For example, if they come from a culture that has high standards for customer service, it’s likely a food service company will need to cover less ground to describe expectations set out in the training for new employees.
If the training is being delivered to employees in a different market where customer service standards are generally much lower, then the training is likely to need to take longer to establish the basics of customer service, explain why it’s important and how to do it in much more detail.
Adapting to needs
When you’re adapting training for new audiences, you’ll also need to take into account the fact that many signs, symbols and icons just don’t mean the same thing in different cultures. The visual elements of your training may need to be adapted to something more suitable for the target audience in order to convey the same message the training conveys to other audiences.
It’s also important to really understand the cultural context that visual images will convey. For example, if you’re illustrating a workplace situation in a video, be aware that power hierarchies can be very different for different cultures.
If you depict a familiar and informal working encounter between a junior and senior person, this might not be received in the same way by viewers in a culture with a more formal and hierarchical working environment. At best it’ll distract from the main message of your training; at worst the message will be totally misunderstood.
Learning expectations can also vary hugely around the world. One global organization found that when it delivered training to its Asian teams, the employees expected to have a test at the end of the learning to check they’d absorbed the content, and then to be ranked according to performance.
That kind of authoritarian approach would be badly received in a Western team but it matches expectations for how learning happens in other cultures.
On a practical level, you may also need to adapt some of the technical elements of your e-learning if you’re distributing it to a global audience. Your employees in rural Africa may have poorer broadband or less reliable power than your team in the London HQ, so it may make sense to rethink how you’re delivering the e-learning.
It’s no small expense investing in an e-learning program so it makes sense to focus on making sure it’s right for every audience it’s intended for.