Maintaining international cross cultural consistency in corporate learning


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Maintaining international cross cultural consistency in corporate learning

  1. 1. Maintaining International & Cross-Cultural Consistency in Corporate Learning by Bob LittleIntroductionHaving identified the personalization and contextualization of learning materials as key factors in enabling Europe’sbusinesses to compete effectively in world markets, learning technologists are now helping these businesses’ work-forces. The European eco-system contains over 40 separate languages and - if you accept the most popular sociolog-ical view - some 80 separate cultures. Amid talk of the world becoming a ‘global village’ as technology develops andallows us to communicate with almost anywhere in the world almost instantly, this means that it is Europeans whoalready have many years experience of tackling - and, in recent years, using technology to cope with - the languageand cultural issues that such communications raise.Europe’s multi-cultural publishers have been living with - and making a living from - this complex eco-system forcenturies. Over the years, they have learnt that being successful as a publisher of multi-cultural learning materials (inwhatever form) involves a great deal more than merely translating text across languages.“You don’t just communicate with the words on a screen within, say, an eLearning program. There are also explicitand implicit messages contained in any ‘screen’ of information - and different cultures interpret these messagesin different ways,” explained Fabrizio Cardinali, co-chair of the European Learning Industry Group (ELIG). ELIG is aconsortium of international players in the ‘e’ marketplace, covering IT, content publishing and service provision for theeLearning market. ELIG provides industry thought leadership and policy input to both the European Commission (EC)and to national governments within the European Union and, at the same time, functions as a networking and partner-ing platform for its members. ~1~ © eXact learning solutions 2010
  2. 2. Maintaining International & Cross-cultural Consistency in Corporate Learning“Moreover, when designing learning materials to be delivered via technology - whether that is via ‘traditional’ eLearning or,increasingly, via mobile devices -- you have to take account of the learners’ abilities,” Cardinali added. “For example, an ‘able’person looking at information on a small screen may have similar difficulties to a differently-abled person who sees that infor-mation on a large screen. Each of these people - and, indeed, everyone - has a right to access learning materials in a way thatwill be both meaningful and helpful to them. Since everyone has something to contribute to the society in which they live, noone should be precluded from having access to the learning materials that they need - and these should be presented to everylearner in the most appropriate way.”It used to be said that one of the advantages of eLearning over conventional, classroom-delivered learning is that it providesconsistency of message, unlike courses in which the personality of a tutor or instructor colors the learning message. This is trueeven - or perhaps especially - when the message is being distributed to a widely geographically dispersed audience.Nowadays, learning technologists and learning designers recognize that this is only partly true. Thankfully, advances in tech-nology coupled with advances in understanding of the process of learning are helping to replace ‘one size fits all’ eLearningprograms with learning materials that take account not only of the learner’s learning needs and preferences but also of the wayin which the learner needs to access the learning materials and the learner’s location. Increasingly the ’traditional eLearning’experience is enhanced by providing, for example, a mobile access to the learning materials.Consistency of Message“When thinking about designing learning materials that will be used across cultures and by people of varying abilities withinthese cultures, the key is to provide consistency of message,” Cardinali said. “Today, the key to providing consistency of mes-sage is to carefully consider contextualization and personalization. This means that you need to understand the learners’ likesand dislikes; their learning styles and learning preferences and their habits as well as their particular language and culture.”In terms of the personalization of learning, the IMS ePortfolio specification - an international standard created to make ePortfo-lios interoperable across different systems and institutions - is a parameter that needs to be taken into account when producingand packaging content within an eLearning program. ePortfolios are now being used as tools for personal development planning,lifelong learning and learning in the workplace. Among other things, the ePortfolio specification supports the advancement oflifelong learning and makes exchanging portfolios from, say, school to work transitions easier.“When it comes to the contextualization of learning materials, you need to understand the users and where they are - both‘spiritually’ and physically,” Cardinali explained. “This should enable you to compile a learning experience that is just-in-time,just enough and just for the learner.“There is no longer any room for a monolithic approach. Instead there must be learning solutions that are personalized to takeaccount of the learner’s background, preferred learning style, precise learning needs and so on. Then you also have to considerthe medium by which the learner receives the learning materials. Increasingly, this could be via iPod, BlackBerry, Nintendo andso on. Finally, you have to consider the learner’s location. ~2~ © eXact learning solutions 2010
  3. 3. Maintaining International & Cross-cultural Consistency in Corporate LearningLearning Services Architecture“So today’s learning platform should not be a single turnkey platform but, rather, it should be a learning services architecturewhere, in addition to the learning content creation and delivery, you can read and write people’s portfolios - encompassing theirbackgrounds, competences, the learning objects they need and so on. This means that you can use this architecture to engagein talent management by spotting and then plugging the gaps in people’s knowledge, skills and competences in order for themto progress and meet their organization’s needs.“And those organizations that take advantage of this architecture to upskill their workforces will be winners in the global mar-ketplace - especially in view of the increasing competition in world markets from firms in countries such as China and India,” headded. “To do this, European workforces need new learning paradigms, technologies and standards to help them develop evergreater skills and competencies. They must also develop these skills and competencies faster, more effectively and efficiently.”Consequently, Cardinali argues for the adoption of international standards to bring interoperability of systems and software, thusproviding common ‘information space’ into which learners could tap. He also advocates the value of inclusion in human terms aswell as the benefits of innovation in learning technologies.He explained: “Since everyone in our society has valuable knowledge, skills and abilities, we shouldn’t ‘write off’ anyone. Thismeans that we need to make learning opportunities available to all in order for them to develop to their fullest capabilities - andthis raises accessibility issues where learning is concerned. “Many of these issues can be addressed through the applicationof emerging learning technologies, especially through location based mobile solutions, games, simulations and virtual worlds.Innovations in learning such as these should help European organizations to remain competitive in the world economy, despiteincreasing competition from elsewhere in the world.”Global CompetitionThe growth of the Asian economies, together with changes in the structure of Europe’s national economies, which sees manu-facturing and extractive industry declining while the services sector forges ahead, is giving rise to the development of the‘knowledge worker’. These knowledge workers have unique expertise and experience and, if their knowledge and skills areharnessed and exploited correctly, they will keep Europe as a key player in the world’s economic stage. If this fails to happen,then Europe could find itself left behind in the economic development stakes for the first time in centuries.Consequently, developing user-centered learning solutions which can be adapted to an individual’s learning needs is a keyobjective for the EC and its constituent states. In the last year or so, European learning delivery technologists have developedmobile learning via wearable computers; enabled the interaction of learners with remote coaches via mobile technology andvirtual worlds, and made increasing use of serious games and simulations.Ideally, learning systems need to interconnect all sources of information and allow collaboration between learners as well asbetween learners and their tutors. In terms of today’s technology delivered learning, this means that third parties need to provide‘silo’ applications to accommodate all aspects of a learning delivery system, allowing organizations to integrate and re-publishlearning content to any learners anywhere. ~3~ © eXact learning solutions 2010
  4. 4. Maintaining International & Cross-cultural Consistency in Corporate LearningThis technology is now available – through such systems as the HarvestRoad Hive digital repository, which manages any formof content used in online learning, corporate training and knowledge management initiatives. HarvestRoad Hive can interfacewith practically any learning or course management system and is integrated with several commonly used course managementsystems, authoring and content assembly tools.HarvestRoad is designed to establish a bridge between islands of content within and across multiple institutions or organiza-tions, regardless of the type of content or purpose for its existence. HarvestRoad Hive is used to store and manage so called’learning objects‘ or ’knowledge objects‘ and their metadata, assemble these into standards-compliant packages and deliverthat content, on demand, to learning and course management systems, corporate training systems or web portals.Armed with this technology, organizations - especially those that employ culturally diverse workforces and operate across inter-national boundaries - can build and cement competitive advantage through enabling efficient and effective knowledge manage-ment which demonstrates its worth via bottom line business improvement.Multi-culturalismCardinali believes that Europe, with its history and lengthy experience of multi-culturalism, is well placed to cope with its varia-tions in languages and cultures and so will be able to upskill its workforces rapidly in order to gain a competitive edge in worldmarkets. Moreover, it is well placed to use this experience to communicate effectively with other cultures around the world andso compete in those markets too.“One key message that we have learnt in Europe is that we must be global but we must also protect diversity within that globalapproach,” added Cardinali, who is also CEO of eXact learning solutions.“Over the centuries, we have learnt the value of multi-cultural societies,” Cardinali continued. “So we need to take account ofthese multi-cultural societies and protect our regional differences.“After all, Western Europe has different characteristics from Eastern Europe and Northern Europe is different from the south ofthe continent. Although English is increasingly accepted as a business ‘lingua franca’, there are no current moves to adopt asingle language throughout Europe.”At present, each country within Europe maintains its own curricula and defines its own skill sets and competences. Yet, Cardinalibelieves that these divisions along national lines need to be aligned with each other - if not combined - in order to present aconsistent message across international borders within today’s global village. He said: “We need to bring curricula and skills inthe various countries within Europe into line with each other - so that the criteria that define a baker in, say, Italy also define abaker in, say, the Netherlands.”As providers of a digital repository and learning content, eXact learning solutions’ approach to this is to make available rapidproduction facilities, including rapid language translation and track the results against both jobs and skills. Cardinali commented: ~4~ © eXact learning solutions 2010
  5. 5. Maintaining International & Cross-cultural Consistency in Corporate Learning“We use recognized international standards for such things as portfolios and reusable competences, such as the Reusable Defi-nition of Competency or Educational Objective (RDCEO) standard from IMS.”Far from handicapping its competitiveness in world markets, it would appear that Europe’s ostensible fragmentation - as a col-lection of nation states, with many languages, cultures and sub-cultures - has spurred it to harness the latest learning technolo-gies’ capabilities to help its learning designers produce learning materials that offer a consistent message to learners, whatevertheir personal circumstances, culture and learning preferences.About the AuthorFor over 20 years, Bob Little has specialised in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning – especially eLearning – and technology-relatedsubjects. His work has been published in the UK, Continental Europe, the USA and AustraliaeXact learning solutionseXact learning solutions, formerly Giunti Labs, is a leading online and mobile learning content management and digital repository eXact learning solutions - Headquarterssolutions provider, offering a wide range of tools and services for content development, management and delivery, covering: Abbazia dell’Annunziata • Multi-language bespoke learning content production Via Portobello - Baia del Silenzio • Content management and digital repository platforms 16039 Sestri Levante (GE) Italy • Mobile learning technologies • Consulting and professional services Tel +39.0185.4761The company has over fifteen years of experience and more than 100 clients worldwide. Our technological innovations allow Fax +39.0185.43.347enterprises to improve their organizational performance, and achieve significant reductions in business costs. ~5~ © eXact learning solutions 2010