Analysis: Learner Profile and Motivation for Global Learning

The story you are about to read is the 5th chapter in a series based on a composite of real learning leaders in real situations. The company, Delpharma, is not an actual company but, as you will see, it faces a very real challenge: how to deliver learning experiences in a global, multilingual, multicultural environment. Those readers who have faced this challenge will recognize themselves in this story. If you are interested in learning more, we invite you to contact us at and we will be happy to continue the conversation. If you would like to receive the ebook with all chapters included, click below in ‘Sign Up Today’ here and we will send you the full ebook when it is available.

Meera and Lisa ordered sandwiches at the counter in the kind of deli New York city is known for. Their orders were unusual as they commonly skipped lunch or had a salad, but with Meera in town for a visit, they decided to break their routine and enjoy a bit of local culinary culture. 

Meera had known Lisa since they were students together in Purdue University’s master of instructional design and technology program. They completed the courses and graduated on the same day nearly twenty years ago, but had remained friends and confidants ever since. Both remained in the world of corporate learning. Lisa began as an instructional designer at a learning company but then took positions in several companies as Chief Learning Officer. She had worked for a regional grocery chain, a US based hospitality company, and then a Detroit-based manufacturer of auto parts. 

Lisa’s recent job move was to Delpharma, a pharmaceutical company with a global reach. With more than 50,000 employees, the company had locations in nearly thirty countries and developed their learning program in as many as fifty-five languages. Lisa and her family were in the process of making the transition from a suburb of Detroit to New York, the headquarters of Delpharma and where Lisa’s office would be. Her husband remained in Michigan while their daughters finished their school year and the house was sold.  Lisa temporarily moved into a condominium provided by Delpharma until she and her husband found a more permanent place to live. (CHAPTER 1)

Meera was thrilled for Lisa when she learned of the new job and immediately said yes when Lisa asked her to come for a visit. Meera was also in corporate learning and development but as an advisor to many multinational companies. She worked at Ingenuiti, a company that was nearly thirty years old. It began as a translation company and had grown over the years to include localization services and custom learning solution developers. Meera’s specialty was what she called GMMLX: global, multilingual, multicultural learning experiences.

Meera arrived in New York the day before. She and Lisa discussed the challenges of her new role which would be unique in a GMMLX context. Meera clarified the definitions of localization and translations. They reviewed the ADDIE model (analysis, design development, implementation, and evaluation). Both agreed that the initial model was too linear and not iterative enough for more modern learning development but they also agreed that every step in ADDIE was needed even if they made adjustments to how the model worked.  

Just before lunch, their conversation was focused on Analysis, specifically the discovery phase of building a learning experience. They discussed organizational priorities, stakeholders, and objectives, as well as which languages and cultures would be receiving the training. 

Shortly after they found a table, their pastrami sandwiches arrived. They smiled at each other, “I’m going to say it again. I never eat like this for lunch and there is no way I am going to be able to finish this.” said Lisa. “And I don’t want to think that I’m starting a new habit in a new city.”

“I’m sure you won’t,” said Meera, “but I’m not in town visiting you every day. Maybe we commit to only eating like this when I’m here to see you?”

“I can live with that,” said Lisa. “Before lunch, you said that you wanted to talk about learners. I’ve been thinking about them since I first took this job. Two of the companies I worked for only had operations in the US. My last company had plants in Mexico and Canada and so I had to think about culture more than in my past along with all the language considerations.”

“Things are about to get a lot more complicated,” said Meera. “You told me that you will be working in sixty languages?”

“Fifty-five actually,” said Lisa, “but I’m not sure five more would matter that much or make things more difficult than they already are.”

“And you think this will be new?” asked Meera. “I’m certain that many different cultures were represented in your previous companies, and many languages too, even though you only translated your learning material into Spanish and French. Take a minute and look around this deli.”

Lisa put her sandwich down and looked around.

“Now,” said Meera, “just watch the people walking by on the sidewalk. It will only take 30 seconds.”

“What do you see?” asked Meera.

“I get your point,” said Lisa. “We are surrounded by a lot of different languages and cultures while we are talking about different languages and cultures.”

“We certainly are,” replied Meera. “I read somewhere that just in this city alone, more than six hundred languages are spoken. And that is only about ten percent of the total number of languages spoken in the world.”

“Are you saying that fifty-five languages are not very many and that I should not be worried?” asked Lisa.

“Not at all,” said Meera, “you should be worried. You have an enormous responsibility, and it won’t be easy.”

“I’m not sure that is very reassuring,” said Lisa, smiling weakly.

“I’m not trying to be cruel,” said Meera. “I’m only pointing out that you have always worked in a multilingual, multicultural context, even if you didn’t think about it very often. Yes, this is a bigger challenge, but you will rise to it.”

“How do I do that?” asked Lisa.

“By being intentional about it,” said Meera. “For far too many of the companies I work with, translation and localization to other cultures is an afterthought. They build their learning experiences in their first language with little thought given to other languages. They assume this will happen after they’ve done the analysis, design and development work. Like it is the final part of the development stage.”

“That’s why you keep mentioning GMMLX: global, multilingual, multicultural learning experiences,” said Lisa.

“It is,” responded Meera. “You already live in a highly multilingual and multicultural place. You work in one too. And to do this well, you will need to have significant insight into your learners, no matter how many languages and cultures are involved. What you are dealing with is beyond simply language translation. Which language and in what region? And what are the cultural differences between the regions?”

“Can we talk a little about what you mean by culture?” ask Lisa.

“Of course,” replied Meera. “We will talk about this more when we get into design and development, but this is a good place to start. To understand a culture, you will need to understand how people in that culture are motivated. Some cultures tend to follow rules while some are more motivated by social expectations. Some by guilt or others by challenges and competition. And, of course, none of this is monolithic so each culture contains almost every kind of motivation. But most also have dominant themes and tendencies.”

Lisa had put her sandwich down again and was intently taking notes. Meera paused and took a few bites. 

“I’m not sure if this made things more or less difficult,” said Lisa looking over what she had just written in her notebook.

“Maybe this will be helpful,” replied Meera, knowing this was not an easy topic. “Culture is a shared mental framework that characterizes individuals in a given group. And yes, I know that is a very broad statement.”

“More of a generalization,” said Lisa.

“Of course,” responded Meera. “You are making some general assumptions about an individual who is part of a group, but that is the best option you have. Delpharma has more than fifty thousand employees. You can’t get to know each one of them on a personal basis so you will have to work with some assumptions knowing there will be exceptions. The more clearly you state your assumptions and confirm them with people in those cultures, the better your understanding of them and their specific needs will be.”

“And to do that,” said Lisa, “I need to do what you mentioned earlier. I need to get to know people in those various cultures to understand their culture and their needs.”

“Exactly,” said Meera. “When we get more into design and development, we will talk about translation and localization services like Ingenuiti has that will ensure the learning experience fits the culture, but the more you know, the better.”

“You said that culture is a shared mental framework of a specific group,” replied Lisa. “What are the components of the framework?”

“Great question,” said Meera. “There are many components, but the core is built on beliefs that are shared among the group. It includes values that are common within the group. Perceptions on how they tend to see and understand the world around them.”

“What are some examples?” asked Lisa,

“As you get to know the cultures and people with whom you work,” said Meera, “you will begin to see patterns. Some cultures are more accepting of hierarchy while others have a much greater emphasis on equality. For some, individual achievement is the highest value, while for others, collective achievement is more highly honored. Some cultures have a more short-term orientation while others tend to think in longer time frames.”

“That’s helpful,” said Lisa. “You are telling me that a big part of my job leading a worldwide team building global, multilingual, multicultural learning experiences is learning to listen to and appreciate other cultures.”

Meera’s face lit up in a big smile. “Exactly! Listening and learning will not only help you do your job well but also communicate something very important to your learners from around the world. Last night you mentioned that some of the executives worried that some of the global team members felt like their culture and language needs were being ignored and that this may be a contributing factor in why some locations were underperforming.”

“I did,” said Lisa. “I’ve been thinking about how to overcome that hurdle, and this seems like a good way to begin to understand that.”

“Then that is a very good first step,” said Meera. “Get to know global leaders and ask them for their impressions on learning. Spend time with them. Listen carefully to them and get specific with what they need. It will give you valuable information and will show that you intend to honor them, their language, and their culture. It will speak volumes to them.”

“I think I’ve eaten as much of this pastrami sandwich as I’m going to,” said Lisa. “Let’s head back to my apartment and take an hour to catch up on calls and emails.”

“That works for me,” said Meera. “I’m sure there are some things that need my attention.”

“Lunch, of course, is on me,” said Lisa. “This has been incredibly valuable for me. Thanks for pushing me to engage our global learners and really get to know them.”

“I promise it will be time well spent,” said Meera. “One of the true joys of my job is working with global companies. I’ve become friends with people all around the world and have learned so much from them. Those interactions have made me a wealthy soul.”

Lisa shook her head in agreement and said, “What a lovely expression. A wealthy soul. I look forward to those experiences.”

After Lisa paid the bill, the two women walked back to Lisa’s apartment, taking their time to notice the people, shops, and cultures that surrounded them.

If you are interested in learning more, we invite you to contact us at and we will be happy to continue the conversation. If you would like to receive the ebook with all chapters included, click below in ‘Sign Up Today and we will send you the full ebook when it is available.

Jerry Zandstra
AUTHOR: Jerry Zandstra is Ingenuiti’s Senior Director of Learning. Dr. Zandstra holds two masters’ degrees and two doctorates, and he has been in the learning, training, and development space for more than thirty years. eLearning Industry has named Dr. Zandstra as a Global Learning Trailblazer for 2022 and 2023.