Monday, June 28, 2004

Global e-learning best practices

When you deploy e-learning globally, there are obvious things to take into consideration. Here are a few that I have seen get overlooked, in no particular order of priority:

Make sure you know what the target technology environment is in each country and don't assume that just because there is a head-office corporate policy it actually happens that way in the real world. Find out about local bandwidth issues both within local intranets and for those who will use dial-ups out of the office (much of Latin America is on 14.4kbps; broadband is still rare even in much of Europe). Confirm the existence of sound cards or other media cards if you think you will need to use them. Confirm the operating systems, browsers and versions that are the minimum in the different target areas. Also establish what the local intranet policies are, especially where security, plug-ins, cookies, and firewalls are concerned. Make sure that your learning designs can accommodate any variances.

Also think about your e-learning as a 24-7 service, not a series of training products. Instructor or SME support in local languages is important, and so is technical support. You can't have a learner in Japan having to wait till 3a.m. to make a long distance phone call to the US to find out how to get his sound working. Train your local IT helpdesk to handle first-line support, or contract it out to a local 24-7 agency.

Time zones also play into the provision of real-time SME support. If your only SMEs are US-based, make sure that their schedules allow them to "be there" even occasionally for learners on the other side of the planet. We used to schedule synchronous sessions all around the clock, allowing learners to pick a slot that was convenient. and we usually logged the sessions and made them available in the course library as searchable databases, for those who just couldn't make it.

Take time to find out about local privacy policies. The way we handle the privacy of personal data in the US may be inappropriate or even illegal in other countries. For example, Germany has very strict labor laws that may forbid you from retaining certain performance records, or even from testing understanding. Sharing learner performance with managers may also be an issue, as is the question of anonymizing participation in synchronous or asynchronous group sessions. On the other hand, places like the UK have very little in the way of employee privacy protection.. so find out before you start programming.

Finally, while you will obviously try to localize language and vocabulary, also take into consideration local norms where things like grading and passing tests are concerned. In the US 70% seems to be what people assume is a pass. In other countries it's often 60 or 50. Using As, Bs, and Cs is a very American thing which makes no sense to many other nationalities.

Enough for now -- except to say that if you are doing some substantial multinational work you should look at the localizing services of some specialists in the e-learning field. In the DC area, has a good reputation. I have worked with an excellent company called Transware, who have offices all over the world and can do the localization, translation, and programming with people who are all native to the target language

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