“What should I use?” Tools and approaches for engaging global learners
Ipas is an international, non-governmental organization that partners with people worldwide to advance reproductive justice by expanding access to abortion and contraception. Given our broad range of locations and cultures, training staff on IT systems and applications poses unique challenges. Among those are adapting materials to preferred learning styles, collaborating with geographic and time-dispersed teams, supporting multiple languages, and adjusting to an increasingly remote workforce.
The Business Application Management (BAM) team at Ipas
My name is Tommy Richey, and I’m a systems administrator for the Business Application Management (or “BAM”) team. What’s that? At Ipas, business applications are loosely defined as enterprise systems with an organization-specific, customized purpose (as opposed to a general-purpose application such as Microsoft Word). This includes our customer relationship management (CRM) system for donor and research tracking, our financial and HR system, and our content management system (CMS)/intranet, among others.
As a small team with no dedicated organizational trainer, offering end-users support and helping them become proficient requires us to be adaptive and resourceful! It also means we need carefully consider how we may use our limited capacity to maximum effect. How do we accomplish that?
1) We strive to be self-sufficient. BAM team members attend training of the trainer workshops (including one through Humentum: eFacilitation Skills: Virtual Train Like a Pro), do our own research, and develop original training materials. We also work closely together to test new things and get constructive feedback.
2) BAM aims to strike a balance between offering flexible, user-centered support and recognizing we can’t support every possible application. There’s such a vast array of tools that a significant role is paring down options and identifying what would serve people best. That means considering both what we already offer and navigating new possibilities. For example, someone might think they need an additional subscription for survey tools; however, we often find that Microsoft Forms (included with every user account) almost always supports what people need. Rather than saying “no,” we prefer to say, “have you considered?” since sometimes it’s only a matter of awareness. Either way, we like to explore new and existing tools together to set up our users for success.
A multimodal approach
Another key characteristic of BAM’s training approach is offering multimodal learning opportunities. We recognize that one person might want to watch a quick video, another might choose written guidance, and another might prefer personal guidance, among other possibilities. With that understanding, we try to offer at least one webinar a month on tools and tricks people may not know or could use a refresher on. We also provide a catalog of self-directed courses through Humentum’s learning management system (LMS), which we branded as Ipas University. That’s in addition to some SharePoint Online-based FAQs, PDFs, and quick video tutorials. Finally, sometimes you need immediate, direct assistance (“operator!”). In that situation, we connect through Microsoft Teams, which offers easy screen-sharing and even remote control of the end user’s screen.
The BAM team recently explored another training option offered by Humentum: Curatr. Unlike the Humentum learning management system, which we’ve found best-suited for self-led, asynchronous learning, Curatr is an exciting platform for working through materials in a more time-bound, interactive way. For example, Ipas recently completed an anti-bias training course, with materials hosted in SharePoint Online and conversations in Microsoft Teams. After exploring Curatr, we realized that it would be an ideal system to have both learning and interaction in a unified space. Knowing that, we are eager to adopt Curatr for some future trainings!
Facilitation tools used for a global audience
As noted in the introduction, Ipas has a highly diverse workforce distributed across time and space. So, what are some tools we use to bring people together and work as a unified organization?
To help break down language barriers, we avail ourselves of built-in Microsoft O365 translation functions. That includes translating entire messages in Outlook with the translate button or using the chat translate feature in Microsoft Teams. For example, I know little to no Portuguese, yet can chat with colleagues in Mozambique in our respective native languages simply with a few clicks. No awkward toggling between Google Translate and your chat application! Some users report that DeepL offers a more accurate text-to-text translation, so it’s worth comparing.
Live voice translation is a bit trickier. Microsoft Translator offers voice-to-text translation, but the initial setup can be time-consuming and confusing. As an alternative, BAM uses a nifty hack. Did you know PowerPoint offers live, translated subtitles? By setting your input and output language, launching translation subtitles, then overlaying your main window (with some careful window sizing/repositioning) you can control live translation and don’t need to burden people with extra setup. We find this works well as a no added cost, relatively simple solution for offering at least bilingual communication. Sometimes we need to offer live audio in more than one language (typically during “official” organization meetings). In that case, we turn to Zoom interpretation channels and live, professional interpreters.
Finally, to address geographic distribution and its various time zones (no one wants to wake at 5 am or work until 8 pm for a meeting), BAM and the rest of our organization offers multiple sessions. That means scheduling at least one meeting during morning working hours and one during afternoon working hours. That way everyone globally has a reasonable choice.
These are just some of the considerations, approaches, and tools the BAM team uses to train and support our colleagues. I hope you find our experience and some of these tips/tricks helpful. Our thanks to Humentum for its excellent staff, resources, and support, as well as its active, multi-organizational community of trainers and facilitators!
Tommy Richey started his career at Ipas as a helpdesk team member with later focus in SharePoint administration. As technology and organizational needs changed, he learned other systems, tools, and training techniques to support a global staff of over 400 employees. Tommy now works as a system administrator (still with a focus in SharePoint!) as part of the Business Application Management (BAM) team, a versatile group of user-centered, learning-oriented IT professionals.