E-Learning Best Practices


As both the use of e-learning for employee training and the number of people who speak a language other than English at home continue to expand at a rapid pace, it is more important than ever to design e-learning programs with other language and cultural groups in mind. For example, according to a new U.S. Census Report, the number of people who speak a language other than English at home has more than doubled in the last 3 decades, and globally, more than 75% of all internet usage is conducted in other languages.

What do you need to consider to ensure that your e-learning programs are effectively designed no matter what the language or cultural group? With over 28 years in the translation, interpretation and localization industry, here are our suggestions. Think international when developing e-learning programs. It is important to start by internationalizing e-learning programs so they can be readily adapted for all languages and locales, which can save time and potentially cut costs in the long run. This includes trying to:

  • design and write content with an international audience in mind

  • allow room for text expansion in other languages

  • remove or adapt culture-specific information

  • separate media from content so it can be re-purposed when needed

  • ensure that the platform used for e-learning supports multiple languages, including alternate number, currency and date formats, etc.

  • ability to readily export the text for translation

Limit the use of jargon, slang, and wordplay. As part of the internationalization process, try to limit the use of jargon, slang, and wordplay that could impact the success of your e-learning programs and may not be readily understandable or culturally relevant for the target audience. Review content to adapt to culture and locale as needed. In Darlene Christopher’s article entitled “A Harder Focus on the Global Classroom” in the February, 2011 issue of T+D Magazine, the author emphasizes the difficulty in being able to spot cultural or other misunderstandings due to the lack of such verbal cues as quizzical looks or the shrug of one’s shoulders. It is, therefore, even more important with e-learning material to carefully review the content and be prepared to adapt to the target audience’s culture when needed to ensure the successful outcome of your e-learning programs. Content that may need to be reviewed and modified includes: images, animation, colors, potentially inapplicable legal or political information and regional or culture-specific examples or scenarios. This would include references to sports like baseball, or to a game show like “Let’s Make a Deal” that may not be known or understood by the target audience outside of the United States. Also, determine if it is best to change the names of people or places to more locally appropriate ones depending on the culture and purpose of the e-learning material. Identify technology needs or preferences to get and keep the learner’s attention. Getting and keeping the e-learner’s attention is both essential and difficult, particularly considering the rapid pace of developments in technology. At the same time, technology is a means to an end and so it is equally important that the user be able to access the information and is comfortable using that particular type of media or technology. Be sure to define the technical and functional needs of the target locale, including things such as available internet bandwidth and available or preferred technology to ensure that your

e-learning material can be readily accessed and is still engaging for the learner. Provide video for e-learning programs in other languages. The use of video is becoming increasingly popular and cost effective for e-learning programs. The same is true for videos in other languages, but it is important to understand your goals and what options, such as subtitling versus voice over, would best meet your learners’ needs. Consult with your Language Service Provider (LSP) to make sure you use video effectively in other languages for your e-learning programs. Syntes does this for its clients on a daily basis. Take learning styles into account. Ms. Christopher also points out in her article that while the diversity of a global audience can make e-learning even more interesting due to the variety of perspectives available, it is important to “match diversity with diversity” by providing participants with numerous options and different types of exercises that will appeal to a wide range of learning and cultural styles. It is also advisable to become as informed as possible on this matter, so be sure to consult with the appropriate in-house resources or your LSP to determine if certain training material should also be adapted for the preferred learning style of the target culture. Consider the importance of consistency. Particularly for a series of e-learning modules, consistency of terminology and style can be key to success. Again, check with your LSP on the creation of a style guide and bilingual glossary of terms to help ensure consistency. Translation memory (TM) software is another tool your LSP can utilize to ensure consistency and leverage repetitive content. For audio or video content, it would also be important to use the same, consistent voices throughout a series of e-learning courses. Determine reporting needs for feedback and questions. Reporting, such as course surveys, learner comments, and questions, needs to be localized into the target language or back into the original language. It is important to make sure that the reporting systems used can support multiple languages. Review reference lists and supplemental material. Review the bibliographies containing lists of additional references and supplemental material, such as a course manual or online help, to determine what may need to be translated or modified for the target audience. This would include translating key supplemental material and possibly replacing certain references with ones more appropriate for the target locale or indicating if certain material has been left in the original language. Effectively localizing your e-learning material can help you engage a larger, more diverse audience than ever before. Syntes can help ensure the successful outcome of your e-learning programs no matter what the language! Contact us today with questions or for more information.

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