Elearning Localization: An Introductory Guide

Last Updated September 27, 2021


Elearning is a cost- and time-efficient way for businesses of all sizes to train employees and educate customers. Localization allows for this valuable content to be made relevant for all, no matter where they live around the globe.

Elearning significantly reduces the logistical challenges of getting valuable information to those who need it.

If you want to efficiently train new employees and keep everyone in your company up to speed on new policies and procedures, elearning is the way to go.

Elearning also makes it easier to create customer tutorials or keep your customers informed about new product developments.

It’s not always enough to present elearning in a single language, though, especially if you have a global customer base. It’s also not enough to settle for basic translation – elearning localization is a must.

If elearning content isn’t tailored to cultural contexts around the globe, it won’t sufficiently get the message across.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at elearning, why it matters, and some best practices for localization.

Elearning: What exactly is it?

Before we get into localization, it’s important to outline exactly what we mean by elearning.

Elearning, short for electronic learning, is the delivery of educational and training materials via digital resources.

The term was coined professionally by Elliott Maisie back in 1999, but elearning delivery has changed a lot over the past two decades. Today, most companies make use of a learning management system (LMS) to execute their courses.

On the trainee side, all you need is a computer or mobile device and an internet connection to participate in video courses, complete online quizzes, and receive the certification that proves you have gone through the process.

What’s included in elearning varies. Here are the three most common types.

1. Employee Training

Elearning is most often used in employee training.

Companies and organizations of all sizes welcome new team members by putting them through an onboarding process to help give them the lay of the land and get them up to speed on policies, procedures, and the ins and outs of their respective roles.

Quizzes and exams can also be incorporated to ensure retention of information and a passable knowledge before they formally begin.

2. Compliance Training

Policies and procedures change over time. Keeping employees up to date on all the latest requires periodic compliance training sessions.

Examples include:

  • Diversity training
  • Health and safety
  • Anti-harassment training
  • HR documentation

By running these elearning sessions, your company will remain a safe space and reduce the risk of non-compliance.

3. Customer Training

Elearning is not just for internal purposes – customer training helps people understand the products or services you’re offering and keeps them up to speed on updates along the way.

Software companies, for example, can offer elearning modules to explain the benefits of updates and how to take advantage of them. This kind of effort encourages customer retention and brand loyalty.

Some of the benefits are evident from what we’ve discussed so far, but it’s important to lay it out before jumping to what’s involved in elearning localization.

Why Elearning Matters

Elearning offers significant benefits to both your company and those interacting with the material.

1. It’s an efficient way to train

Make sure employees and customers can quickly and easily access and complete the most up-to-date training modules.

This allows people to get back to their regular tasks more readily. It also increases productivity and offers flexibility in regards the where and when of training.

You don’t have to shut down the office or send people offsite to get everyone on the same page. It can all be accessed when it’s most convenient for the individual and the company.

The result is improved performance and greater productivity

2. It saves money

Elearning is also cost efficient.

For one thing, you don’t have to worry about printing costs, which saves money not only in course delivery but also development – edits and updates can be made online rather than in hard copies.

In that sense, you’re also reducing your company’s carbon footprint, and that’s an added benefit that can’t be overlooked.

The bottom line is elearning significantly helps your bottom line.

3. It can be accessed worldwide

Elearning’s accessibility is the other major benefit. It’s an effective way to get material circulated and consumed in any country you operate.

In this global, digital age, your company’s procedures and policies can be quickly introduced to and applied by its regional subsidiaries in short order.

Carefully crafted elearning content is vital to ensure the same high standard of training is accessible to all employees, wherever they are in the world and whatever language they speak.

It’s not enough to have the content translated – it’s the localization of elearning materials that make them fully effective.

The Importance of Elearning Localization

Language and cultural factors have a significant impact on a person’s ability to learn.

Research shows people learn things quicker in their native language than through translated content. Our brains are structured to understand and retain information in our native languages.

Additionally, businesses localizing their elearning courses for multilingual employees are 46% more likely to be industry leaders.

And according to recent regional studies, the highest growth rate of elearning is in Asia at 17.3 percent, followed by Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America at 16.9 percent, 15.2 percent, and 14.6 percent, respectively.

If your company is aiming to expand globally, you must invest in localization as a stepping stone to success.

Course content shouldn’t simply be translated into the appropriate language – it should be tailored to the culture context.

Localization refers to the adaptation of materials to the linguistic and cultural, technical, and legal standards of a given country or region.

This applies to everything from your website content, branding, and even the products and services you are providing.

Localization goes far beyond translation. Localization includes, but is not limited to:

  • Icons and symbols
  • Photos and graphics
  • Text content
  • Fonts
  • Dates, times, and measurements
  • Input and output
  • Color schemes
  • Terminology, acronyms, and abbreviations
  • Browser window titles
  • Software application screenshots
  • User interface
  • Table of contents

Elearning localization, in particular, is adapting training materials for employees or customers in different parts of the world.

Localization of elearning content consists not only of translating it into a new language, but also adapting elements such as measurement units, currencies or date format, to name a few examples.

Localization of these materials is key, because educational content must meet high standards. It should be engaging, highly substantive and of interest to the recipient.

With dedicated elearning platforms and tools, for example, your company’s procedures and policies can be quickly applied to its regional subsidiaries, from the US to China.

8 Questions to Ask When Developing Elearning for Localization

When companies come to us for elearning localization, we begin by asking the questions listed below. We’re not shy about bringing these up right away.

We want you to know we’re thinking ahead, have extensive experience, and seek to set you up for success with this project from the very beginning.

1. What languages are you considering?

First, we check to make sure the languages you’re targeting are supported by the platform you’ve selected.

Look for forums and discussions to learn if there are any limitations. Pay extra attention to languages such as Arabic and Hebrew as these two are extra complicated.

2. Can the content even be localized?

Your course material may not be relevant in some countries.

For example, we recently worked on localizing training for a global law enforcement agency. Parts of the training talked about different criminal procedures used during investigations.

When we started working on the fifth target language, Chinese, we learned that legal procedures in China are quite different. Changes to the main content were necessary, which delayed the entire project.

Writing for a global audience is not always possible, especially with highly specialized content.

Sometimes rewriting the training for a particular region is necessary, and it’s always better to identify the situation ahead of time.

3. How will the elearning module be tested?

Your course must be tested over and over to make sure it’s 100% free of errors.

Don’t do it yourself, either. If you’ve worked on a project for three months straight, you’re less likely catch every mistake. You’ll be better off if you hire an independent reviewer.

Simple math will explain why this is so important: If it costs you $20 to fix a single issue in English and you have 10 of them, the total cost is $200. If you localize to 10 languages and the problems are still there, the cost of fixing them goes up to $2000.

Possible issues include functionality, inconsistency in punctuation and formatting, and inconsistency in terms and names that are being used.

4. Are images involved?

Is your training full of images of people? Where will it be mainly used? You want to use localized images that portray people from that region.

If the training will be localized to 10 languages, it’s better to avoid images with people altogether, or one day someone will need to do lots of updates to replace them all.

5. Do images have embedded text?

In a perfect world, every single line of text on an image should be translated during the localization process.

But that doesn’t always happen.

You can save hours of work by keeping the text out of the image zone.

6. Are any slides animated?

While animations add some interaction, they can be quite a challenge when it’s time to localize.

Here are some tips:

  • Do not animate single letters. We’ve seen that before and it’s very time consuming to replicate that in different languages.
  • Try to avoid animations based on specific words, especially when they are verbs. Why? Because while the verb is in the second place in the English sentence, in other languages, such as German, it’s at the end. That means we may need to redesign these elements in the training which will take plenty of extra time.
  • Base animation timing on input or clicks by the user, not on the duration of sentences in the English voice-over. Spoken language varies in length and the timing that works in English is not going to work in Spanish.

In short, don’t overuse multimedia.

7. How’s the audio-to-visual ratio?

The most important facts should be on-screen and not in the audio.

Updates to training are not uncommon, and if they happen every year and are for the same item, it’s costly and not very fun.

If you only need to do it only once and in English, then it may not be a big deal. Now imagine when you need to update training in 10 languages.

The studio/voice-over, engineering, localization, and testing costs – these all add up and can cost you thousands of dollars for updates that could have been avoided.

For example, don’t include the prices in the voiceover script. Instead, have the voice talent refer to them, and display them on the screen.

This especially applies to any kind of numbers that may change sometime in the future.

8. What about videos?

If you use video in the training, keep in mind that they will also need to be localized. The costs are high when you add them up over several different videos.

When it comes to localizing videos, subtitle translation is always a good idea.

This all begins at the course-development phase. The more flexible your course is, the easier it will be to translate and localize it.

Elearning Localization Best Practices

With all the above in mind, here are some elearning localization best practices.

1. Think globally from the start

Your initial goal may not be to go global, but why not think big and expect your company or organization to expand?

A localized mindset can help remove barriers to global success. That should include elearning options for both employees and potential customers.

Develop elearning modules with a global audience in mind.

When you’re designing learning for people who don’t share your background, culture, or even your first language, talk to them. Figure out how they learn best, any knowledge gaps they might have, and how you can help them be confident going forward.

It might mean more data collection work up front, but it keeps the door open for exponential growth.

2. Create a canvas for different languages

Characters in different languages can take up more or less space, and that will significantly affect the arrangement or your content.

Text in German is longer than English, for example. Additionally, there are languages that are read vertically or from right to left.

Let’s say you plan on one day training employees in Japan. Consider designing a module that would be suitable for a different alphabet and/or reading direction.

Accounting for unique character shapes and sizes when developing your elearning courses is key for easier localization.

3. Understand the target audience and its culture

Localization of elearning content consists not only of translating it into a new language, but also of adapting it for specific cultures.

Basic elements like conversion of measurement units, currencies, or date formats need to be kept in mind.

It’s also necessary to consider certain behaviors that are more likely and credible in each country.

A simple example would be driving on the left instead of the right side of the road in materials sent to the United Kingdom.

Or consider that purple represents richness and royalty to Westerners, while in Thailand it represents death and mourning.

Make sure any symbols, icons and even color schemes are universally accepted.

4.Facilitate easy assessment

Beyond making it easier to share new information, elearning also makes it easy to track the learner’s progress.

Training content should therefore be created in such a way that the employer or teacher can easily assess progress.

The material should be interspersed with quizzes: multiple choice or fill-in-the-blanks questions, for example.

Remember, though: Content must be universal not only for its users but also for those assessing them.

5. Engage with a localization service provider

Choosing the right company to help launch your elearning module is key.

Rely on a company that has already implemented several large elearning localization projects. They should have a deep pool of knowledge and experience, as well as a large database of translators specializing in this type of project.

Make sure you have an editable source file when approaching a translation and localization service.

If you only have a published version, you may need to develop a localized version from scratch or make significant changes to the software in the source language.

This will all help you develop, maintain, adapt and track the success of elearning efforts.

Elearning Localization in Action: UL & Interpol

UL is an independent safety certification company dedicated to promoting safe living and working environments.

They developed a training program in partnership with Interpol to prevent and prepare against counterfeiting operations and cybercrime for organizations in the private sector.

The nature of cybercrime surpasses borders and languages, so it was essential that the highly sensitive training material was available in multiple languages.

Summa Linguae Technologies was given the mission of providing continuous support in the localization of their online training materials, including supporting collateral, onscreen text, and voice recordings in five different languages.

We built a team of translators, QA testers, voice talent, editors, and engineers to help us with the entire production and translation of over 200,000 words of content—resulting in a successful global rollout of their elearning platform.

Take Your Elearning Program Global

The elearning localization process begins at the very beginning, whether acknowledged or not.

When it comes to elearning, it’s best to keep a global scope in mind to enable easy transitions down the road.

Not only should the course content be flexible to keep up with changes in policies and procedures, but it should also be easily shareable around the world.

At Summa Linguae Technologies, we translate and localize elearning materials such as:

Summa Studio is our in-house, all-in-one multilingual content platform. It’s the perfect sidekick for your global content platform.

Contact us today to get started with elearning localization at Summa Linguae Technologies.

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