4 Major Challenges when Implementing an International ELearning Program
Over the years I have been fortunate to implement a variety of elearning programs for both large and small organizations. All of these experiences were unique in their own way, but what I found to be most difficult to manage were the extremely large projects that impacted tens of thousands of employees across the globe. There were many challenges to overcome with these implementations, but some of the bigger ones included:
- Localization of elearning content (translation)
- Respecting cultural norms (Western and Middle Eastern)
- Collaborating with client counterparts in different timezones
- Remaining consistent in elearning course design across hundreds of courses
Localization: Before agreeing to do any type of elearning program, you should establish up-front what languages will be supported, and then stick to that guideline going forward. I can recall one project I was on that agreed to do English only, but then started to waver because of pressure from the client to support another language for local job aids and simulations. So, when detailing the language, make sure that you specify it includes all training documents, not just the elearning itself. This includes job aids, quick reference guides, simulations, and exercises.
Cultural Norms: There are essentially two areas that you should pay attention to from day one for any elearning program that will span across different cultures: text and images. Text is a bit challenging in some cases because what makes sense to one culture might not make sense to another. It is a good idea to avoid cultural phrases (i.e. anything relating to sports) and the like. Stick with formality and you cannot go wrong. Images are another area to pay attention to because one culture may find an image offensive. Do the proper research ahead of time to avoid embarrassing moments down the line.
Timezones: This is extremely challenging. I remember being on one project where we had team members in the United States, Middle East, India, and Australia all at the same time. To make logistics even more challenging, the standard workweek for the country we were working with in the Middle East was not the same as a workweek in Western cultures. As you can imagine, lining up our calendars was difficult. In this case, we had to set communication expectations and remain flexible for call (some calls were early in the morning for us, while others were late at night). If you have an international team, make sure you alternate the times for your meetings. Also, most importantly, set-up a video conference at least once-a-month to get a little face-time with everyone on the team. It goes a long way for collaboration when you actually see a persons face rather than their name in an inbox.
Design Consistency: Chances are that if you are on an international elearning program, then you are going to be developing a large number of courses. It isn’t unheard of for large training projects to include over 120 total courses, especially when you have varying levels of courses for each subject and user role. As such, it is imperative that you not only develop a style-guide prior to developing any of the courses, but that you make it part of your standard quality assurance program. Elearning programs, or any training program for that matter, are judged not only on content but on presentation. If the “101” level of a course has a different format and color scheme than the “201” level, then you’ll lose credibility. Ensure that you have regular checkpoints and that the visuals still play an important part of the process.
As you can probably imagine, there were certainly more challenges than these four, and often some one-off “fires” to put out over time, but these items are prevalent in nearly every major implementation I have done. I also believe that completely avoiding problems in these four areas is impossible, but it can certainly be minimized with the proper preparation, dedication, and quality assurance.