Learning something new, especially when it impacts your career, can be overwhelming for anyone. But what if, in addition to the regular stressors of work training, your employees come from a variety of different cultures or have different first languages?

You’ll need to develop eLearning that’s comprehensive and able to give your learners confidence that they can be successful. 

Design your eLearning with the help of your audience

It can be difficult to figure out exactly what your learners will need to succeed. In this case, we’ll say that “success” refers to understanding, retaining, and putting the subject matter into practice. So how do you know what material or features to include in your learning to facilitate this success? The answer is: you don’t know until you ask. 

When you’re designing learning for people who don’t share your background, culture, or even your first language, talk to them. Figure out how they learn best, any knowledge gaps they might have, and how you can help them be confident going forward.

Why you should make it a priority to consult your learners

When we started developing training for Royal Caribbean crew members, getting to know our audience was our top priority. Their input enabled our team to close knowledge gaps we didn’t realize existed. We also piloted the learning modules with Royal Caribbean employees of various cultures and languages. Learner feedback from the pilot modules helped us find and fix gaps before releasing the final product for all Royal Caribbean employees.

Talking to your learners before rolling out training gives you a better idea of what extra knowledge to include. There are opportunities to involve your learners every step of the way, from talking to a subject matter expert during discovery to asking them for feedback when you test your learning. Getting to know them can also give you a better understanding of their culture, and some insight into what eLearning features will make their learning experience more successful.

Features that enhance any learning experience

eLearning has tons of great features that look really awesome and make the experience more comprehensive for your learners. Some of these features can be really beneficial to your global audience, especially if English is their second (or third, or fourth) language.

1. Voiceover

Some people who learn English as a second language will understand more when reading, and some will understand more when listening. Including voiceover to narrate your text is a simple way to accommodate any global audience. Another cool way you can use voiceover is for a pronunciation check. We included pronunciation checks in the bar staff training for Royal Caribbean so their learners could hear how to say difficult phrases like “Dom Perignon” and “lager.”

2. Pictures and graphics

A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? It’s possible your global learners might have difficulty reading or listening to what you’re trying to teach them, so why not just show them exactly what you’re talking about? Visual graphics, when used to supplement the text, are psychologically more effective than text alone.

3. Video

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video should be worth about a million. Video instruction is one of the most effective ways to learn—the combination of audio, visual, and the ability to incorporate subtitles makes video a communicative powerhouse. In the wait staff training for Royal Caribbean, we found that showing learners videos of how waiters are supposed to position themselves around a table was a lot easier than trying to spell it out.

4. Glossaries

Sometimes it’s helpful to keep all your vocab in one place. It’s easier to locate a glossary than to search through learning modules for a specific definition. Using a glossary can also help reinforce all the in-text definitions you want the user to remember. 

3 tips to optimize your learning

There is no clear, cookie-cutter method for developing learning for people of other cultures and languages. But there are a few ways that can help make your learning more accessible to everyone.

Be clear and concise with your writing

Clarity and simplicity are your best friends when writing learning content. Even if you have the talent to write long, complex, vocab-heavy sentences—don’t. Your learners will thank you.

Think about the grade level of your content. The majority of your content should be words that are easily recognizable. If you do need to use words that are more complex, you might want to consider including a definition, especially if you want your learners to remember what it means. Your sentence structure should be simple and direct—why use 100 words to describe a task when you could write 10? Use just enough detail to effectively convey your meaning.

Keep in mind that everyone has a different cultural background

If you’re in contact with your learners, they’ll be able to acquaint you with cultural norms you might not be considering. Additionally, colloquialisms and idioms that might seem common to you could be completely foreign to your learners. Since you’re trying to be clear and concise here anyway, avoiding idioms entirely is probably the most effective solution.

Working with employees of multiple cultures will also open the door for different accommodations. While piloting a module for Royal Caribbean, we discovered that employees from China were much better at reading English than writing it—but employees from the Caribbean were more familiar with spoken English. To enable all of our learners, we incorporated subtitles and voiceover into each module. When you’re aware of these differences you can make your eLearning as accessible as possible to your learners.

Consider what your learners already know—and what they don’t

Understanding your learners’ knowledge gap is imperative to the success of their learning experience. Even if you think the majority of the people accessing your learning will have enough knowledge to be successful (remember: understanding and retention), some of your global learners might need a little extra help to get up to speed. Including a little bit of background information won’t hurt, since it will close the knowledge gap of your global learners and serve as a reminder to everybody else.

For many global learners, part of this knowledge gap is probably language-based. While your learners are willing to receive instruction in a different language, they might be stepping outside of their comfort zone. They’ll need a little bit of support to feel confident—and that’s OK. Your people shouldn’t feel like the content has been dumbed down, or like they can’t understand everything they need to. Great learning finds a way to both accommodate and empower global learners.

When in doubt, test it out

Talk with your global audience. Ask them to test the learning module and give you feedback. Watch what they breeze through and what they struggle with. In a way, they are the subject matter experts on your learning—a resource for you to depend on and learn from. Your end result should make your learners feel confident in their ability to put their new knowledge to use.

Check out eLearning designed with ESL learners in mind.

Take a look at a case study where we prioritized Royal Caribbean’s global audience.

Check it out