How to be Successful in International Multimedia Training Projects; Collaborative Design and Development

Content:
Background
Gaining Advantage by Sharing
Core Product Concept
Required joint tools, techniques and processes
Conclusion




Background

The benefits of joint operations in training material and course production between different partners from different countries have often been highlighted. In Europe, for instance, there are in operation tens of projects producing training by multimedia by joint efforts.

Conventionally training utilising multimedia has been reasoned much in economic terms by “Economies of Scale”. The scale effect is due to the factor that fixed costs are usually high (material conceptualisation, material production, organising the different training support services etc.), but variable costs are low (duplication, delivery etc.), compared with classroom based education. However, it is obvious that the scale effect requires large “lot sizes” and mass production. Inside one country and one language area the scale effect has clear benefits. Using similar materials and courses in different countries and different language areas create many problems. The main problems can be named the “Three L´s”: Language, Logistics, and Localisation.

Often in training it is not possible to use one single language in all different parts of the training different countries. For many learners using one language would decrease the access to training. Logistics (including delivery, transport, invoicing, end-user support etc.) is neither feasible to be run from one spot on large geographic areas. The localisation with the organising of strong student support services must be done by actors close to the end-user. These reasons are speaking often against strong centralised production structures.

Are there alternatives for purely national or regional production? Yes, there are, but these alternatives require that we approach the benefits of common production from another angle than the classical Economies of Scale effect. Mass production is not bringing the benefit, but rather sharing and joint operations in course conceptualisation and design.

The financially important parts in training material and course production using multimedia are mostly in conceptualisation, design, production of visualisation etc. Thus it is important to understand what can be jointly done and shared and what must be produced close to the learners and their respective environments.


Gaining Advantage by Sharing

The advantage can thus be reached by common operations and producing jointly the core elements of training programmes. The development the models for service transactions can also be useful for multimedia training. As can be seen in figure 1 (applied from Mäkelin and Vepsäläinen), the basic dimensions are the service idea and the channel to distribute the service. In our case this is modified to the purposes of multimedia training on an international level.

Figure 1



The successful choices can be found on the diagonal in the matrix. If the service (in our case: training programmes) is customer-specific but delivered by self-service (in this case: without proper local support) the learner usually faces either quality problems (like lack of proper support) or is overloaded by different inadequate services. However, the other option which implies strong support (e.g. good tutoring) but is basically a mass product can rob the client by phoney tailoring and few options for individual changes. The real challenge make the jointly developed multimedia training products so localised (by translation, addition of local cases, some local visualisation etc.) that the individual customer feels no cultural barriers in using this training product.

Thus the emphasis in deploying international training programmes in the domestic environment should be one which combines the cost advantage element and the premium price element. The cost advantage can achieved by international production and international sharing of the conceptualisation. However, learner needs urge (and the modern IT allows) adaptation to different local circumstances. Thus the economic paradigm of multimedia training is shifting from reaching Economies of Scale by production and “big lot sizes”, to achieving the scale effect by the production of the concepts and core materials which then can be further developed by different local actors.


Core Product Concept

One way to solve the problems discussed above is to use the core product concept. According to this concept, the core products (jointly developed course contents) can be produced by different entities by joint operations (see figure 2). However, to be successful on different markets training programmes must be tailored according to the needs of local clientele. It is obvious that many tools (like quality guides, marketing hand books, house style manuals) must be produced on a project level to assure an even quality on different markets.

Figure 2


It should be recognised that also our authoring environment for multimedia training can be very global. Often the deliverable is in an electronic form as well as very much of the documentation is in an electronic form - the production of the different multimedia products can technically be easily decentralised. The economic paradigm of multimedia training material production is changing from reaching Economies of Scale by production and “big lot sizes”, to achieving the sharing effect by the joint production of concepts and core materials which then can be further developed by different local actors. This approach can open new avenues to successful joint multimedia training production and marketing of these products to various markets.


Required joint tools, techniques and processes

For the successful collaboration are needed also
• joint tools and processes
• joint information structures
• joint technology platforms and programs.

Joint tools are mainly shared tools to undertake the production and the adaptation of learning materials. Basically the set of tools should include
a house-style manual
b quality manual
c copyright manual.

The house-style manual is basically a production manual, defining among other aspects joint approaches to how to address the learners, how to use related materials, how to use colours, how to navigate etc. This should be supported also by provision of logos, templates and scripts. The house-style manual is defining also the space for alterations and adaptations according to various audiences.

The quality manual is defining the quality policy within a project or an undertaking. The quality procedure should include aspects of drafts, draft control, versions, version control etc. The copyright manual is of great importance especially in multinational projects, as the copyright practices and legislation differ from one country to another. However, a watertight copyright practice is an absolute requirement for successful commercialisation of any multimedia product.

It is also likely that especially in ambitious multimedia products a jointly developed and respected information structure as well as a shared information model are required. These are required cornerstones to keep these projects healthy and are also establishing one parameter for the division of labour between different actors. The information structure development is also assisting in the development of the actual user navigation.

And finally joint programming tools are the requirement for successful joint projects. However, not only is there a need to share a joint programming shell, but even more so also other basic tools (such as word processing, graphics, spreadsheet etc. software) should be standardised throughout the partners.


Conclusion

The rationale of joint international multimedia projects is often obvious. The raising costs and the decreasing life cycles of such products require dispersed production, but also reaching wider geographic audiences requires presence on several markets. Collaborative projects can be an answer, however, the collaboration requires even more intensive up front planning as well as real commitment of the various partners not only to share the same conceptual understanding of the goals and objectives but also in everyday operations sharing the same tools, practices, information structures and technology platforms.