Language training: Building a business case for scalable learning

Written by Armin Hopp on 20 April 2017

The key to organisational success is not scalable efficiency, but scalable learning, according to the Bersin Deloitte report ‘Predictions for 2017 - Everything Is Becoming Digital’ [1]. Improved communications skills will facilitate and accelerate an organisation’s ability to scale and react more effectively to a changing business climate.

John Hagel of Deloitte's Center for the Edge [2], defines scalable learning as a key part of the Big Shift, a fundamental change in the way we do business. Recent years have seen the evolution of a greater number of big businesses, driven by a rationale of efficiencies of scale.

As a result of the Big Shift, Hagel believes the rationale of efficiencies of scale is becoming less compelling and in many respects may actually become an obstacle to what is required for economic success in future: “We believe large organisations will be driven by a different rationale – what we call scalable learning.”

Learning has many benefits and cost efficient delivery is not the only factor when it comes to return on investment.

He explains, “In future, the reason someone would join a large company is because they would learn faster than they would on their own or as part of a smaller company. This is a very different rationale than those companies that continue to pursue scalable efficiency who are not going to be well positioned to accelerate learning and performance improvement.

The winners in future will be those who reassess all aspects of the business to understand what would be required to get scalable learning.”

Hagel defines scalable learning in many ways. One is to rethink the work environment: “If you took as your primary objective to accelerate learning and performance improvement, what would the work environment look like? Not just the physical environment, but workers and management systems and the entire work experience?”

Scaled learning is not a matter of scaling for efficiency, such as rolling out digital learning globally – learning has many benefits and cost efficient delivery is not the only factor when it comes to return on investment.

‘Free’ activities such as encouraging peer-to-peer learning and coaching can also scale your learning programmes. By building knowledge and collaboration networks outside of the organisation, you scale learning still further.

Scaled learning can create an agile business. In particular, language and communications learning goes beyond simply arming a person with linguistic skills. It also improves ‘cultural competence’ by opening people’s eyes to a way of doing things that’s different from their own [3].

It also drives ‘tolerance of ambiguity’, increasing the comfort level of a person when dealing with unfamiliar situations and thereby boosting their flexibility and agility in new business situations.

Because of the increase in tolerance for ambiguity and decrease in risk aversion, it increases mental health in general, boosting individuals’ ability to pick up social cues and augmenting creativity.

Here are three top tips for HR professionals looking to build a business case for scalable language training:

  1. Devise a language strategy and make it visible within the company. Articulate clearly standards for written versus spoken communication. State which areas of the business need to be up to par with the established communication norm – some departments and job function levels may deviate from that.
  2. Make sure all employees feel prepared for new expectations when it comes to language and communications. Not everyone will welcome change and might even feel incompetent if or when they cannot communicate at their normal speed and at their competency level.
  3. Define how you will measure results from language training. Take enough time to see results.

Language acquisition accelerates personal growth and drives employee motivation. Expanding an organisation’s language skills outside your core language region creates a diverse, agile, company and furthers an international image.

At Speexx, we learn from our customers and find ways to make this learning visible and accessible to other customers, thereby creating a scalable network of invaluable knowledge.


[1] Bersin Deloitte Report: Predictions for 2017 - Everything Is Becoming Digital.

[2] Podcast: Interview with John Hagel   



About the author

Armin Hopp is the Founder and President of Speexx. Speexx helps large organisations everywhere to drive productivity by empowering employee communication skills across borders.


Read more from Armin here

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