How do you train large groups, both locally and around the globe?

It’s not uncommon today for both large enterprises and small organizations to have a globally dispersed workforce, whether it’s having an office in another country or simply managing a remote team.

Training teams across the globe, or even in large numbers in your own region, can be challenging. You not only have to balance different learning styles and outcomes, but you also have to consider other barriers to learning, such as time zones and cultural differences.

In these cases, eLearning has many benefits over traditional learning. You can send materials remotely, for example, or tailor coursework for specific teams without clumping them together in a large physical space.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to build an eLearning course for large, diverse groups. Here are a few of the challenges organizations may face and how to overcome them with strategic planning.

Challenges of Globalized and Large Group Training

These are some of the ways companies, big and small, are finding it difficult to keep their workers trained in large numbers or across considerable distances:

  • Cultural differences – Countries (or parts of the country) may have different viewpoints on work ethic, regulations regarding working hours, or even rules about how employees can be trained. If diverse enough, large groups in the same region may be affected by this as well
  • Expense – Depending on the type of course or platform used, it can be more expensive to train more people. This is a common reason that training isn’t properly implemented for global employees in physical spaces, but it can also affect eLearning in certain instances
  • Time zones – Different time zones can make it difficult to coordinate times for training to take place, or to bring large groups together for simultaneous training. More often than not, organizations may have to create separate training schedules or course materials for different groups
  • Tracking consistency – Knowing which teams are training with which materials is also another challenge. Having a formal training schedule may help, but it may also require someone to oversee the process and manage each team as they work through the materials
  • Training needs – The type of training that needs to be implemented will also affect development of coursework. Training manufacturing employees, for instance, is different than training managers, and each will require their own training materials

Other struggles may include technological considerations, like managing a large number of LMS (eLearning platform) users, finding a robust LMS to handle the needs of a diverse audience, or working with mobile or Internet providers for consistent access across the globe.

How to Overcome These Challenges

The good news is that these challenges can be overcome with some strategic planning and an understanding of your core audience and their needs. Here are some tips for creating diverse eLearning materials for large, global groups.

Import your corporate database into your LMS. Assuming that employee information is already stored in a corporate database (managed through an ERP or a similar HR software), you can then import your user database to your eLearning platform. From there, you can segment users more individually, add or remove user access as needed, and create custom reports for specific groups.

Create well-defined groups with descriptions. Whether in your LMS or using a separate spreadsheet, you want to break down large groups into smaller sub-groups that can be better tracked. Sub-groups may be defined by skill set or job description, location (time zone, languages, etc.), and training needs (access to technology, preferred learning styles, etc.). The more specific you can be with your segmentation, the easier it will be to develop targeted eLearning materials.

Develop a structured training path for each group. An effective training program will be well designed and structured, but also targeted for the individual (or in this case, the segmented group). Each group should have its own specific coursework to follow that addresses the needs of that group.

Create custom reports and tracking for each group. Your LMS should have the ability to create custom reports and track each group. This will be able to tell you which coursework is most effective, which training materials need to be updated or which groups need to be changed, removed or added to make training more efficient. All reports should be available on demand and downloadable in different file formats and/or be able to be shared with other systems, too.

Choose technology that meets the majority of needs in each group. There are ways you can tailor coursework to meet individual needs, but this is more in the areas of time management (e.g. allowing for self-pacing). When it comes to technology, you may not be able to give everyone what they need. That’s okay. You want to focus on giving the majority of users access to coursework in multiple ways– making courses available for download on multiple devices, for instance.

Create a plan for frequent communication. You want feedback from your employees, so you will need a way to track and measure feedback regularly. You should also have a plan to communicate with workers, answer questions and assess needs throughout training. Having a centralized help center or location on your site (like a training forum) will help answer questions for the majority of learners without having to spend your whole day responding to inquiries.

 Encourage learners to take ownership over training. You can also empower employees to work with each other to complete training, and even assign local leaders within the organization to oversee training initiatives (without having to send someone to monitor large groups globally). Awarding teams with prizes for tasks completed, or otherwise encouraging them to work together can help them find value in training, even if they’re not getting a totally customized course.

Tips for Effective Large Group Elearning

When it comes to planning out your eLearning, there are a few tips you can follow to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Allow 24-7 access. Having materials available online, whether for access over the Internet or available for download, can eliminate the need for planned training sessions. Allowing users to self-pace, if possible, can also aid in this regard.

Maintain consistency in as many areas as possible. Tailoring courses for diverse needs, though effective, can be time consuming. To help in this regard, consider tweaking only the sections of your materials that would affect a specific group. For instance, in some cases you might eliminate sections about dress code or maintenance for certain equipment, if certain workers won’t be required to follow those rules.

Keep designs simple and easy to change. The look of your course may also be subject to change, depending on cultural differences (use of images, language, colors, etc.). Keep designs as simple and universal as possible, and keep them in electronic files that can be easily accessed, changed and re-saved if necessary (don’t save everything to a PDF, for example).

Final Thoughts

Training large groups isn’t always easy, but there are ways that organizations can overcome the biggest challenges and create effective course materials. The key is to focus on group segmentation and creating training that reflects the majority of those groups.

Things to be careful of include cultural differences, training needs for various group types and access to technology.

Remember to keep coursework as consistent and straightforward as possible, with easy-to-change designs in case you need to modify materials for various groups. This will not only save time and energy, but it will help your costs over the long term when developing new materials.

Jonathan Davis is an accomplished professional with experience helping Fortune 500 companies achieve success in employee communication and training programs. Jonathan focuses on delivering reliable, successful outcomes that increases employee engagement through highly targeted deliverables, creative messaging and robust programs.