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Do the learning tools you use guarantee international learning?

Do the learning tools you use guarantee international learning?

RSVP Design has a team out at the ATD23 Conference in San Diego soon, and we’re getting ready for a lot of good conversations packed into a very short time. A big international conference is always a buzz, meeting customers, distributors, colleagues whom we haven’t seen in so long, and hopefully attracting many new people to our stand. There are always new and novel conversations to be had, the ones that leave us laughing or scratching our heads over coffee later, but there are a good number of conversations that we can guarantee will happen. I’m going to use this blog to explore some of those, not that I don’t want to be part of these conversations, but rather to flag up some important aspects of RSVP Design and the way we work.

The first conversation is usually triggered by the sight of Graham, our CEO, or rather the sight of Graham’s knees. He’ll usually be wearing a kilt and sporran and, particularly in the USA, that’s a magnet for people who want to talk about “Bonnie Scotland”. If Graham’s knees aren’t what attracts someone to the stand then the question is often “Where are you guys based?”. We tell them we’re close to Glasgow and proud of it. Scotland has a long and illustrious history of innovation and we’re just another demonstration of how you can build a successful business on very specific and targetted creativity. Most people accept this as a good and interesting fact about RSVP Design, but it very often triggers a second line of questions.“So where do you work?” This often needs a bit of clarification but it often turns out to come from the idea that if your base isn’t one of the great global commercial hubs (though people from Glasgow might have an opinion about this), then how can you hope to have a finger on the pulse of L&D developments around the world? This one is easy to answer - our core team is based in Scotland, but we have a global network of distributors and ‘friends of the brand’ all across the world. Most of these people re-sell our learning tools alongside their work delivering learning and development programmes to their own customers in their local territories, or virtually using our on-line tools.

Things often get more specific, and challenging, at this point. “How do I know that these tools will work in the US/Middle East/China/Anywhere else you’d care to mention?” We usually answer this in two ways.

  1. The first is to say that the global network we work with isn’t just a set of commercial arrangements, it’s a living, interactive community. We exchange thoughts, ideas, feedback and questions about existing and potential tools; an arrangement that ensures that we know very quickly if there are local deployment issues with our existing tools. It also ensures that, before any new tools are made available to the public, they have been extensively tested in ‘real’ situations, with a huge range of populations and desired learning outcomes. So the first part of this answer is that every day, in some part of the world, our tools are being used or trialled with different learning populations.
  2. The second part of the answer comes down to the fundamental commitments of our design process. We aim for the minimum level of exclusivity needed to ensure that the activity delivers its stated learning outcomes. What this means is that we try as far as possible to design-out the features of the new tool that would prevent somebody from participating due to sensitivities that derive from their physical, emotional, linguistic, cultural or religious identity. A key part of this is reducing, as far as possible, our reliance on written language, or on the need for participants to work in a particular language (we often see groups working in a language they share and then reporting back to the wider group in a different, more widely shared language). But the commitment goes beyond language, in the past we’ve withdrawn at a late stage of design some image or activity that feedback tells us is potentially problematic. We’re designers! If we can’t find a work-around we’re not really trying!

In the past few years we’ve put a lot of design effort into virtual learning tools, and we’ve learned a lot about making these activities compatible with the standards we’ve always applied to our physical tools. What’s helped us here is that the product version - feedback loop has accelerated, so we hear very quickly if there are issues and we can respond equally quickly with corrective design. At this point at that conference booth we are usually starting to talk about the specific learning outcomes that our stand visitor is interested in realising. That’s when we lean-in towards offering some design advice about how the visitor could integrate our product into their programming. Like I say we’re designers and we love helping our customers to improve their delivery with the inclusion of our tools whether we’re talking to them by mail, the phone, or face to face in a sunny city far away on the other side of America.

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