What do you think of when internationalization is mentioned in the learning context? Language? Culture? Delivery platforms? Accessibility? Time differences?
All of those probably come to mind, but they are, in reality, just the start of any drive to make learning international, whether from the perspective of a corporation wanting to ensure consistency of practice around the globe, a vendor seeking wider markets, or a learner looking for new knowledge and skills.
Learning Performance Institute’s think tank
Take a corporation wanting to spread its messages to its people around the world, for example. The easy and traditional answer is a top-down, centrally-driven rollout of a sophisticated technology-aided solution, delivered to tight time frames and compliance measured through the LMS, which is in turn integrated to the ERP. But “that concept is fraught with difficulties and likely blockages to success,” says Don Taylor, chair of the UK-based Learning and Performance Institute (LPI). Recognizing that beyond the simple practicalities there is something much more fundamental to learning in an international context, the LPI has launched an international think tank to identify the issues, gather evidence, and begin the process of spreading insight and good practice.
Don has gathered together an initial group drawn from industry and commerce, consulting, the vendor community, academia, and government, currently including representatives from four continents. All have global experience. Don says, “The LPI’s direction in initiating the think tank is to bring a wide range of expertise and perspectives to bear, to create a loose but powerful focus and hub for information and thinking about successful internationalization of learning.”
The LPI is providing the secretariat and infrastructure for only the necessary formality to facilitate the conversation between L&D professionals around the world. The model is loose and decentralized “because that is the only way we will move fast enough to successfully address the change now underway in international learning delivery and as global competition in the learning sector increases,” says Don.
The work streams
The think tank is initially working in three broad streams—research, technology, and culture. Members are free to create and pursue their own topics with the help of others both inside and beyond the core group. The only proviso is that learning gained is meaningfully shared amongst the group and made widely available. Taylor states, “That is the LPI role, to provide the channels for spreading whatever is developed. What we are seeking to do is to model learning, globally shared on the basis of equals.” There is a common recognition of the need to get away from the centralized mindsets that have been the norm, replacing them with a new culture of international sharing from whatever source.
Progress to date: research, technology, culture
How is it working in practice? The research stream has already begun to address creating a database of curated, evidence-based, and anecdotal success stories from around the world. The intent is to break the narrow mold of bespoke corporate-funded research, by adding to it a much wider component of case studies gathered from, for example, rural Africa and India. In such places, mobile learning is both simple and innovative due to technology and cost constraints. Simple solutions identified there may provide breakthroughs for corporations wincing at the cost of high-end solutions.
The technology stream is interested in a range of issues, some centered around bandwidth and even basic Internet accessibility. How can advanced, technology-enabled learning be made accessible when the platforms that those of us in the developed world take for granted are just not available?
The culture stream is grappling with some of the subtler issues. The start point is a belief that old assumptions about internationalizing learning means that “a nod to obvious issues of local learning culture in tweaking content for local rollout” are wrong. There is a need to understand that, at a corporate or institutional level, the same lessons that we have gathered about individually-based social learning apply. Learning is a two-way process. Local culture has much to teach the global corporate world. What is needed is to understand those subtleties, interpret them, and incorporate them into learning strategy, inclusive design processes, and knowledge transfer.
Where is it all heading? Don again: “As well as all the thinking and sharing, the direction the LPI is taking is to encourage local think-tank events, of whatever form, around the world, feeding back to a central repository that is widely available.” It is a bold initiative, exciting because group members are also free to experiment with technologies to enable their processes and ideas.
For further information, contact Don Taylor at http://www.linkedin.com/in/donaldhtaylor/.