E-learning is a relatively new phenomenon. Being able to so easily access educational materials through a computer or mobile device wouldn’t have been possible only a decade or two ago.

But today, e-learning has proved itself to be one of the best ways to engage and retain your audience. It helps you get your message across clearly, whether to new employees, to your partners, or your customers.

For companies around the world, e-learning has become the source of huge increases in profit and potential.

Maximising the returns you get from your e-learning materials though, often means taking them global. This is when e-learning localisation comes in.

Because if you want your course to connect with and help you retain your audience, you need to be speaking to them in the right language. Both culturally as well as linguistically.

What is e-learning localisation?

E-learning provides access to educational materials via electronic means. This might mean using a mobile device or computer instead of sitting in a classroom. It is sometimes referred to as online learning, internet learning, or distance learning.

E-learning localisation is the process of adapting e-learning courses for specific groups of students in different regions and from cultures. Localisation involves translation. But it actually goes much further to fully adapt every element of your course so that it appears completely natural to someone from your target audience.

You can think of localisation doing the same thing for culture as translation does for language. This might sound like a small distinction. But you only need to think how obvious it is when you see materials in everyday life that clearly aren’t designed for you.

Why is localising your e-learning courses important?

A basic example for a native speaker of British English would be a course that appears designed for an American audience.

References to “fenders”, “sidewalks”, the “trunks” of cars, who the president is, and so on can all be figured out. But they demonstrate that the content was probably intended for an American audience.

Sometimes even small cultural differences like these can make learning materials confusing or less relevant for learners. They can cause students to disengage from the learning process. But then think how much worse it would be if a course:

  • Contained references to Chinese culture or society
  • The currency was in rupees
  • All the images showed people gathered around well-known French landmarks.

These are only rough equivalents of the situations that can result when courses get directly translated instead of localised. But they should show that if you want your e-learning to connect with your audience, localisation is vital.

How to make e-learning engaging – localise!

When you design an e-learning course, one of the key factors you will have in mind is how you are going to engage your audience. To do this – and to provide an educational experience that provides satisfaction and superior knowledge retention – you will no doubt include things like:

1) Content that is new and interesting

Simple repetition of facts isn’t a great way to engage most audiences. Saying something new or communicating information differently is always going to be more interesting.

How localisation helps you do this

Ideas that are common knowledge or taken as read in some parts of the world are not common in others. Localise your content and transmit your ideas to a receptive new audience.

Localisation also plays a vital role in adapting the language you have used in your content to ensure that any idioms, metaphors, humour, or other concepts that don’t translate directly are properly adapted for your specific audience.

2) Examples that are relatable

The use of examples is vital in e-learning course design. These examples need to be understandable and relatable.

How localisation helps you do this

Localisation will involve adapting the examples you use to be relevant to your local audience.

For instance, imagine you are the boss of a hotel chain and you are creating e-learning content for your greeters. When doing so for your branches in many parts of Asia, examples demonstrating a handshake greeting would need to be localised to be more relevant to your audience.

3) Navigation tools that are natural

The way that people from different cultures are used to navigating around electronic devices is different. By forcing someone to figure out a new system, you risk alienation and disengagement from your content.

How localisation helps you do this

Picture a language like Hebrew or Arabic that is read from right to left. Or Chinese users who often prefer a much more information-packed GUI.

One of the key parts of the e-learning localisation process is to study your local target audience’s norms and expectations and adapt things like navigation tools to meet them.

4) A voice-over that takes the right tone

A professional voice-over is a key part of most e-learning courses. As you will know only too well, some students are audio learners. Many other learners find an audio track to be useful.

How localisation helps you do this

Not only does a voice-over in another language go over poorly with students who don’t speak it (imagine if you were completing a course where the voice-over was in Japanese), even directly translating your English language voice-over might not have the effect you are looking for.

A tone and phrasing that are appropriate for teaching or conveying a message to people from one culture may be confusing, detract from the message, or be outright inappropriate in others. Again, localisation will involve understanding local norms and ensuring your course meets them.

5) Images that convey the right message

The visual elements of your course – images and imagery, graphs and charts – are an important part of the learning process for almost every student.

How localisation helps you do this

If you only translate or localise the text of your course, you will hugely reduce its value and impact for an audience from a different culture.

Picture a graph that uses locally incorrect or confusing units of measurement. Or an image of a pair of friends in a stock photo greeting each other with a hand gesture that is completely innocuous in your domestic market… but that is seen as highly offensive by your new local audience.

Is e-learning localisation worth investing in?

Brands and organisations around the world have started to see the benefits of e-learning localisation for all kinds of purposes. This includes:

1) Profit

E-learning would have become the go-to teaching solution for commercial companies anyway thanks to its qualities of learner engagement and retention. But the fact that it provides brands with a solid return on investment has likely driven its growth more than anything else.

A recent survey of the use of e-learning in the US found that around 77% of American corporations use e-learning. Early adopters from 2001 onwards saw growth of up to 900% – and pointed to e-learning as one of the tools driving it. A more modest – but still impressive – 24% growth was seen by just under half of the companies in the US that used e-learning in more recent years.

2) Reach

The fact that e-learning is delivered online means that – after it has been localised – it can be used to extend your reach to a global array of audiences. This is key to how e-learning has become such a driver of profit and growth.

With the ability to communicate effectively to massive new audiences, many of which contain large numbers of people who are keen to increase their knowledge level in a given field, companies can look forward to much greater returns.

3) Acquisition

Adapting your course to meet the expectations and norms of specific target audiences around the world massively boosts acquisition levels.

If a course appears to have been specifically designed for a specific learner – or at least someone from their region and culture – they are much more likely to start it.

4) Retention

The same is true when it comes to retention. Learners are much more likely to stick with a course if they don’t need to struggle to get what they need from it.

With more cogent and relevant examples, tailored content, properly adapted navigation tools, and other features, learners are going to be much keener to interact with your course.

5) Global

From the tone that is perceived as “normal” when receiving instruction to colour symbolism to cultural differences like handshakes versus bowing to what different gestures mean in different places. You can’t expect your original domestic version of your e-learning course to be universally applicable.

Properly adapting it to specific regional audiences is the only way to succeed.

Where can e-learning be used?

There are a variety of different situations where properly localised e-learning allows organisations to deliver training or convey information in a way that offers much better results than other methods:

  1. Staff training – onboard new hires. Update existing team members on new regulatory standards or internal processes. It’s easy with properly designed and localised e-learning courses. You can test your staff to test knowledge retention and receive reports on their results.
  2. Customer “training” – anytime you need to convey information or instructions to customers, one of the best ways to do so is localised e-learning. From how to use a product to why to use your services, e-learning has been shown to dramatically boost engagement.
  3. Partner training – do you partner up with businesses or trust others to re-sell your products? Worried they won’t market your products or services correctly? E-learning works much better at conveying this information than a seminar.

Localising your e-learning materials – step by step

Here’s an overview of how the e-learning localisation process works:

1) Identify scope

How many languages will you localise for? Does it make sense to localise for those regions? What data are you basing this on? Which content are you going to localise?

Identifying the scope of your localisation project should always be your first step. It will help you determine the necessary budget.

2) Planning

What tools and software will you use for the localisation process? Do you have the necessary language experts on hand? Translation – and especially localisation – are never something you can entrust to a well-meaning bilingual member of your team.

If you are using a Language Service Provider, make sure they have experience in the field. Asian Absolute specialises in e-learning localisation. But not all translation agencies have the same portfolio of experience.

You should then get ready to provide the text, graphics, images, video, audio tracks, voice-over scripts, and all of the content you have identified as necessary for localisation to your in-house team or LSP.

3) Localisation of written components and visuals

Now you’re prepared, it’s time to extract everything that needs to be localised from the source files and have your experts adapt it for your target audiences.

This may involve extensive research into the target audience. It should certainly involve the use of native-speaking linguists who are subject matter specialists in the topic being taught.

Localisation should touch on every aspect of your e-learning course and may involve translation or other changes being made to:

  • Written content
  • Images and imagery
  • Colour use
  • Units of measurement
  • Idioms, metaphors, and humour
  • Graphs and charts
  • Your voice-over script

4) Quality Assurance

For companies like Asian Absolute, no project would be complete without extensive editing and proofreading. This is carried out by highly experienced linguists who are also native speakers of the target language and experts in the subject matter being taught.

As an extra measure, Asian Absolute also gives the initial translator a chance to explain any decisions they made during the translation process and offer a final review.

5) First round of client review

If you are using an LSP, a first review of the localised written and visual elements of your e-learning course – including the voice-over scripts – is often a part of the localisation process.

6) First revisions

Your LSP will then usually discuss any comments or changes with you before making them.

Once these have been implemented, recording of any voice-overs and other audio or video work can go ahead. It’s important to finalise the script and exactly what needs to be done in advance. This is because studio time is often one of the biggest expenses in an e-learning localisation project.

7) Voice-over recording

After the script has been approved, the voice-over can be re-recorded in your new target language. This isn’t something that every Language Service Provider can do. It takes a truly global network to source the right talent for your needs. It also requires technical expertise to slot the new voice-over into place in your course.

That’s because saying the same thing in another language may take more time or less. This means that when a voice-over is changed, alterations may need to be made to what is being shown on the screen so that audio and video match.

8) Possible second round of client review

Usually aimed at reviewing the voice-over and any associated work, you may again be given the chance to have your input and give your approval for the project to move forward.

9) Desktop Publishing (DTP)

Again, this isn’t something that every translation company can provide. Asian Absolute has the expertise in-house. But be sure to check that your LSP has DTP specialists and localisation engineers who can correctly format all of the visual elements and graphics ready for use.

10) Final Quality Assurance and delivery

Finally, there is another review by the editing and proofreading team. This may, and should, be accompanied by extensive testing to ensure your course works, often by a team of native language testers. The entire project can then be integrated into a single file and sent to you ready for publication.

This is in many ways a simplification of the e-learning localisation process. But for a beginner’s guide, the essential takeaway is the benefits in terms of profit, acquisition, engagement, and retention that localising your e-learning will get you. As well as the fact that with the right partner, the process can be simple and straightforward.

Want to get the very best return on your e-learning investment?

Let’s talk. Asian Absolute specialises in e-learning localisation.

Start with a free, no-obligation quote. Or set up a commitment-free chat with one of our helpful account managers today to discuss what you want to achieve with your latest course.