How to Effectively Export Your Education
by Erin Ilgen
Global business has exponentially grown and will continue into the foreseeable future. Technology and mobility have become more affordable for the masses. No longer does one have to draft a letter and wait months for a reply to arrive. Twitter, Facebook, and email allow you to connect with colleagues around the globe in an instant. And while we take the time to learn how to navigate the latest communication tools, it is fascinating to think about how little effort we designate to understand the people with whom we share our thoughts and experiences.
This gap is even more apparent in corporate learning and education. Global organizations use multiple solutions to optimize growth, yet offer a one-size-fits-all learning experience when educating their employees. Training and development managers dedicate countless hours to developing presentations, e-learning, apps, and course materials. But take a moment to count the hours you spend thinking about how the material will be digested and received by the learner or course participant. With so much focus placed on how the material will be delivered, the knowledge transfer process and the learning moment often become afterthoughts.
When preparing curriculum that you intend to present to a global audience, it becomes especially important to be aware of the individual learner. Educational material that is well received in your local market might not be as successful when exported globally. Concepts easily understood by the people who share your daily routine may be alien to your foreign counterparts. And, of course, acronyms and other basic terminology do not always translate directly into other languages. It is therefore as important to understand your business as it is to understand your business partners in learning.
When planning a global education program, I recommend the following steps; they will enhance the learning process:
It is important to be both flexible and mindful of time when working internationally.
Establishing an environment of partnership and facilitating learning is more important than telling or directing the learning experience.
Finally, asking questions is the key to clear understanding, and will minimize miscommunication.
Assumptions can derail the learning transfer process and generate negative perceptions. I delve further into these three strategies in the following section.
Regardless of how the body of knowledge is transferred (e-learning, classroom, individual study) be aware that time is relative. While countries like the UK, United States and Canada might be obsessed with deadlines and time schedules, countries in Latin America, India and the Middle East are more likely to be fluid in terms of time. Be aware that while you might want pre-work completed in two weeks, it may be perfectly acceptable for a learner in Brazil to complete it in four. Just because it is late, does not mean that the learner took it less seriously; in fact, I’ve often found the opposite to be true. Or maybe the learner did not interpret that deadline the same way you intended; perhaps they needed the additional time due to language barriers or learning styles. As an educator, it is important for you to be flexible and allow for variations in time and deadlines depending on your audience. Be prepared and plan for these variations so that you don’t find yourself fighting to beat the clock.
Another way to interpret and apply flexible timing in your training relates to classroom facilitation. Be aware, when presenting to an international audience, of the inherent language barriers. An activity or discussion that normally takes 30 minutes to present could take 45-60 minutes, depending on the speaking speed of delivery, translation requirements, or participant questions about the material. With this variation of timing, a scheduled half-day training course can easily take a full day. If you don’t plan for this timing, you short-change not only yourself, but the classroom participants. Have a plan. Know what content is absolutely essential to the learning process, and focus on presenting that content first. Make yourself aware of how the participants are learning, and take time to clarify your points and check for understanding. Many adults are too afraid to raise their hand to ask a question. They don’t want to feel dumb in front of their peers. It is your responsibility as a trainer to ensure that all learners feel safe to ask questions and that the learning transfer process occurs.
Ask, Don’t Tell
As a child I was often heard telling my parents or sibling, “Don’t tell me what to do!” It seems that with the passage of time, my independence has only grown stronger; I have even less tolerance for being told what to do now than I did when I was younger. And it seems I am not alone; this applies to most adults around the world.
There is nothing more demeaning or disengaging than a trainer who “knows it all”. This is especially true on a global scale. While you might fashion yourself an expert of all things Australian, chances are, your knowledge of business practices in Bangladesh doesn’t measure up quite so favorably. Therefore, be mindful of your audience and their objectives for attending your course. Take some time to investigate before presenting your course. What does your audience hope to accomplish by attending this training? What results are desired? How with this learning be sustained? If you can answer these questions in advance, you will be better prepared to meet the needs of your audience.
When delivering a training course, I always present myself as a facilitator rather than an instructor. I do not claim to know the business any better than the people who’ve chosen to attend the class. My goal is to facilitate a learning environment where everyone involved comes away with something new. The idea is to generate conversation around the topic and share experiences related to that material. It is through this dialogue that the learning transfer is secured. Engage your learners to participate in the learning process and share their thoughts and ideas. Not only will the course be more interactive and stimulating, it will be more fun for you to teach.
Don’t Make Assumptions
More often than not, assumptions are the culprits behind international misunderstandings. There is no faster way to disengage your learners or create a learning disconnect than to make an assumption. So, then: if there is even the slightest amount of room for error, make sure that you take a moment to ask for clarification or get an answer to the question. Don’t presume to know what others think or feel. Most likely, your background, experience and knowledge are very different from that of your international colleague; therefore, your perspective and thought processes are also very likely to differ. Humility is the key here, and the faster you are open to learning what you don’t know, the better off you will be.
It takes time to develop respect from and earn the trust of your global business partners. It occurs over many different transactions and experiences. So be patient with all parties involved, including you. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your credibility and reputation be built in such a brief timeframe. Be mindful of your audience, seek to understand them, and you will become more and more successful as you take your training across the international time zones.