The 21st century has seen a rapid transformation in how people communicate globally, and 2020 has been a game-changer, as working and learning remotely has emerged as the “new normal.” Keeping the remote workforce engaged, observing their progress, and customizing their learning and development (L&D) are a few challenges that companies and universities worldwide are coping with — often successfully, thanks to virtual training and eLearning platforms.

With a globalized workforce to manage and learners yearning for content in their native language, localizing your eLearning courses is the best way to keep your learners involved and inspired and give them the coveted sense of inclusion.

What Is eLearning Localization, and How Does It Differ From Translation?

While translation means offering an eLearning course in another language, localization means adapting the course to the target audience and its culture. It includes customizing the symbols, images, pictures, fonts, idioms, currency, dates, acronyms, graphical user interface (GUI), tone, measurement units and other details. The purpose of eLearning localization is to deliver the exact meaning as the source course, with the correct emotion, in a specific cultural context.

Why Is eLearning Localization Important?

It Removes Cultural Dissimilarities

In India, red signifies wealth, purity, love and beauty. Conversely, in South Africa, it represents mourning (the red portion of the country’s flag represents the violence and sacrifices made during the struggle for independence). In France, yellow signifies jealously, disloyalty, weakness and disagreement, but in Japan, it symbolizes courage and affluence.

Would French learners relish an eLearning course filled with images and backgrounds primarily in yellow? Surely not. This example demonstrates the importance — indeed, necessity — of localizing eLearning. It takes into account cultural nuances and aligns the course with the culture of the intended audience.

Localization also removes cultural differences in gestures, fonts, audio narration and symbols. For instance, many Western countries prefer a friendly tone in courses, while many Eastern countries prefer a formal tone. Recognizing cultural nuances prevents misinterpretations, makes eLearning content more relatable and relevant, and elevates the learning experience.

It Enhances Knowledge Acquisition and Retention

Translation improves knowledge acquisition and increases retention, but even the most flawless eLearning translation, if not in sync with the learners’ culture, will fail to serve the intended purpose. Localization helps break down cultural barriers and makes the content more relevant.

For instance, let’s say you are planning a training program on body language for a global sales team. The course targeted for North American learners will likely include a picture of a salesperson smiling as he or she shakes hand with a customer. But if the customer and the representative were in Japan, the picture will likely feature them bowing rather than shaking hands.

How to Accomplish eLearning Localization

Emphasize Design in Addition to Language

Imagine you are planning a course for a Western workforce, and you’ve translated the text appropriately but have not localized the course. Most of the images and graphics are in blue, so regardless of how effectively you’ve translated the course, employees may misunderstand it, because the color blue is associated with feeling melancholy in the West.

As another example, let’s say the course you developed for your workforce in the U.S. includes a video in which an employee makes a thumbs-up gesture to say, “Well done.” Now, you are planning to deliver the same course to employees in Iran. When localizing the course, you will need to change this gesture, because in Iran, it is an insult.

Remember to localize the entire GUI and design, including your choice of fonts, to prevent misinterpretations and results in effective delivery.

Always Know Your Target Audience

You never want to see your learners disengage from your eLearning course — but you will if you attempt to localize it without sufficient insights about the target audience. Perform in-depth research about their cultural preferences, dialects and tone, spelling, etc. — and accommodate them accordingly.

Begin During the Initial Stages of eLearning Development

It’s of paramount importance that you recognize the need for localization at the start of the course design process. Then, follow these five tips for creating a localization-friendly eLearning course:

1. Minimize Multimedia

Keep graphics simple and multimedia to a minimum; redeveloping media leads to additional time and cost.

2. Use Neutral Imagery

Use neutral images wherever possible instead of country-specific images, such as a logo only an audience in one country will recognize.

3. Avoid Text on Images

Extracting and translating the text embedded in an image requires additional time and cost.

4. Test the Font’s Compatibility With Each Target Language

This step will preempt glitches, as not all languages support all kinds of fonts.

5. Avoid Humor and Idioms

It can be exhausting to localize jokes and idioms.

Translating your eLearning courses will result in enhanced performance, but taking the extra step of localizing them will always lead to greater acquisition and retention of knowledge. As each element in the eLearning course is customized to the targeted audience and their culture, learners will be better equipped to implement everything they learn back on the job.