EPISODE 39 – TOPIC SUMMARY AND GUESTS:
For 8 years, I’ve been researching how organizations of all types are succeeding with digital learning programs for extended enterprise audiences. I’m excited to dig even deeper with two learning technology experts who manageglobal online training for Western Union’s vast network of money transfer services providers.
Today, I’m joined by longtime leaders of the company’s Global Agent Training program, Tomas Lionikas and Rimantas Juknys. Tomas and Rimantras are based in Lithuania and I’m sure you’ll soon appreciate their international worldview – something that digital learning providers everywhere must keep top-of-mind these days.
- As the rush towards digital training transformation continues, helpful guidance is available from individuals and organizations that are already succeeding in this endeavor. Asking them to share their perspectives can make your decisions easier.
- When serving a diverse global audience, streamlining the path to learning is especially important. You’ll want to design for the “lowest common denominator” user, in terms of available systems, browsers, bandwidth and other factors that affect the learning experience.
Welcome, Tomas and Rimantas! For those who aren’t familiar with Western Union, could you first tell us a bit about your company?
Tomas L: Well, Western Union has been in business for 160 years and it’s quite big, in terms of the number of employees, as well as our services coverage.
It all started with a couple of telegraph companies joining together to serve their mutual customers. But the company profile has changed over the years to go where there’s a market niche – where there is customer demand for certain services. And now we focus on money transfer.
How big is that network?
Tomas L: We cover the entire globe with about half a million agent locations in total. That’s so huge, it’s hard to comprehend. But every one of those agents is at a separate location. It can be your local post office or a kebab shop, or a store in your neighborhood. They all sell Western Union services.
So the people you train are located in those agent locations?
Tomas L: Yes. Our operators (as we call them) are the people behind the counter at each of these locations. We want them to receive the best training, so they can provide a great customer experience.
We need to understand our agents, but we also want to understand the end customer who comes in to send money or to pick-up money. Because ultimately we want them to receive the best possible experience from our services.
So, the operators you need to train at these 500,000 agent locations are not your employees, correct?
Rimantas J: Yes. Currently, about 400,000 individual operators from locations around the world are actively consuming training. And providing Western Union services is not their primary business. So we need to account for that. We need to make sure that our training is highly accessible and is as easy as possible to consume and manage.
I imagine so…
Rimantas J: Exactly. And because we operate globally through so many types of outlets, our learners come from very different backgrounds.
For example, computer illiteracy levels vary significantly. So does the technology behind-the-counter – with diverse operating systems, browsers, and so on. This is a key challenge when you work with such a broad audience.
And of course, with so many different regions and countries, there’s a cultural thing we must account for, as well.
So, I assume you’re using a learning management system to reach learners at all these locations, correct?
Tomas L.: Yes. We use Totara Learn as our platform nowadays. And it’s a great system so far.
How does that work?
Tomas L.: The majority of Western Union agent locations have a Western Union-branded point of sale system (POS). So, we have a single sign-on integration from that system into our LMS. And our training isn’t optional. It’s not like LinkedIn Learning or Coursera or another training provider that invites people to participate at their will.
No. Our training is mandatory because of compliance. Because our key driver is the money transfer business, we must adhere to local regulations. And (shame on us) we force everyone to complete training. But it’s very effective!
So, they get a message in their POS saying that they have to complete the training. The message includes a single sign-on link. So they click on the link and that’s how we bring them into the LMS.
And your agents’ time is limited, their technology is variable and money transfer isn’t their primary business. So what is the training content like?
Rimantas J: Because our mandatory training involves compliance, which is very exact, it’s hard to translate it visually into video format. And usually, there are quite a few pages of information to consume. So most of our training content is SCORM-based elearning.
Sometimes we also deploy PDFs. We don’t consider that kind of content “training” per se, but we’re always weighing the costs and benefits of offering it. And our team makes sure that all this content is published to the right audience at the right time.
Right. So in this case, language localization would keep me up at night. How do you manage that?
Tomas L: Actually, translation was a huge problem with our previous system. Back in the day, we had to side-load our own language packs into the system to get a new language out. So that was quite a technical challenge.
Rimantas J: Yes. But our current LMS makes it easy, compared to all the other systems we’ve used and those we reviewed before settling on Totara.
Totara will be glad to hear that!
Rimantas J: The other consideration is that translation is expensive, in general, because we have so much content and we need to translate it into so many languages.
But one thing that helps us bring the cost down is our approach to translation in the LMS interface, itself. Since our audiences are focused only on mandatory training, they want to complete it as quickly as possible. So our rule is to keep it as simple as possible. If you don’t need a word, don’t include it.
That means words are minimal in the LMS, itself. It basically shows users visually how to move from one step to another, so they don’t have to read a lot of text or search around for relevant stuff. They just log-in with a single sign-on link for direct access to the necessary training.
So they can get in, get required training and go. But they can always return to LMS at any point in the future if they want to repeat that training or get more information or find additional resources.
I see. So how many languages do you support now?
Rimantas J: Currently, it’s 42. And we continue expanding to new countries. So each year we add 3 or more languages on top of that.
Tomas L: Yes, it’s quite a lot, John. Once we moved to Totara Learn, language support is no longer an issue, from a technology perspective. I mean, the system supports a whole plethora of languages. And the simplicity of our interface gives us a lot of flexibility.
But the biggest dependency is the cost of content development and translations. These sometimes slow down our expansion, as we move into new regions. Even though we want to get training to all the agents as soon as possible, the upfront costs can be quite high, and maintenance must happen each year after that.
Good point. So Tomas, tell me about your training team. How are you organized to support such a large, global network of agents…?