Maricarmen Smith-Martinez, Director, International Development

For the better part of the last 20 years, Vietnam has become one of the most open economies in the world. However, inefficient border procedures are preventing Vietnam from continuing to grow its trade economy.

To help increase Vietnam’s local capacity and improve its trade competitiveness, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is funding a five-year Trade Facilitation Program that aims to support the Government of Vietnam (GVN) and will help the Vietnam Customs School adopt and implement a risk management approach to customs and technical “specialized” inspections.

Bixal has partnered with the program’s prime contractor, Nathan Associates Inc, to expand the Vietnam Customs School’s modernized learning experience and aid the overall facilitation of the program, which will ultimately help Vietnamese small and medium enterprises further integrate into global value chains.

In exercising this holistic learning method, the program will also improve the trade and investment environment in Vietnam by simplifying the customs process while reducing risks and delays in the trade process.

The initial phase of the transformation included a feasibility study for e-learning, where Bixal analyzed evidence collected to understand the current learning landscape and uncover key findings for future planning efforts.

As a result of the study’s recommendations, Nathan and the Vietnam Customs School proceeded with the development of a pilot e-learning course. The pilot course intended to serve as a proof-of-concept to collect stakeholder feedback and ideas, informing improvements to proceed with the design and development of full-length e-learning courses and other learning outputs.

Bixal’s lead instructional designer met with school officials on the ground in Hanoi to kick-off the pilot in coordination with the program team. The team emphasized the importance of effective industry practices to ensure a shared understanding of the collaborative approach, laying the groundwork for success by aligning expectations about the outcomes of the activity.

After the Vietnam Customs School selected a topic, Bixal collaborated with subject matter experts and leveraged strong instructional design practices to develop creative and engaging storyboards that would inform the pilot course development. Bixal’s visual design team assessed rudimentary graphics and media to create original imagery customized to the pilot theme and client branding for a visually engaging experience.

Bixal then produced the pilot course using the proprietary e-learning authoring tool, Articulate’s Rise 360—an easy to use tool that provides a modern, cross browser, cross device, and mobile-friendly delivery—which also accommodates Vietnamese language characters. Once the pilot course production was complete, it was ready for user testing. With an international project coordinated halfway across the world, the team anticipated that language barriers and time zone differences would challenge our testing efforts.

However, no one expected the total disruption of a global pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19 restricted the ability to conduct onsite user testing on the pilot course as planned.

Pivoting quickly in these adverse conditions, Bixal’s learning team coordinated with the program team to provide alternative methods for data collection. To overcome technology barriers, the team provided access to the pilot course online and developed survey tools to solicit feedback directly from users. Compiling enough user data to analyze results, Bixal generated a list of recommendations for the Vietnam Customs School for both individual e-learning course development and the learning program at large.

The collaboration between the Vietnam Customs School, Bixal, and the USAID Trade Facilitation Program team to deliver the pilot e-learning course provided valuable ideas for iterative improvement of individual asynchronous e-learning courses. These insights will prove invaluable for Vietnam Customs as it continues to modernize training through the implementation of a more robust learning management system.

Special Tribute: In loving memory of Matt Edward, Bixal Instructional Designer, who laid the foundation for this initiative. His dedication to support improved customs training and development in Vietnam was an inspiration to deliver the e-learning pilot course in his name. His creativity, humor, and caring spirit are dearly missed.