by Amy Morrisey of Artisan E-Learning
We work with a lot of different associations at Artisan E-Learning. We’ve noticed when associations are new to e-learning, it’s common for them to underestimate the complexity and number of moving parts involved in a project. It’s helpful to have an understanding of e-learning course creation, from coordinating subject matter experts (SMEs) and writing scripts to using rapid authoring tools, when creating a successful learning experience.
Now, if it’s already a complicated process to create e-learning courses in your native language, what happens when you add one, two, three, or more languages into the mix? If you’re not careful, you might end up with a chaotic process and a less-than-effective course.
Training a global audience comes with a unique set of challenges. Let’s walk through a few obstacles when training your global association audience and how you can create e-learning courses that overcome them.
What obstacles occur with e-learning for global audiences?
Learner engagement is the “holy grail” of e-learning—if a learner isn’t paying attention, they’re not going to learn much at all. But, for a learner to pay attention, two things need to happen.
First, the learner has to see the content as meaningful in light of achieving their goals. Second, they need to be able to easily access all the content and resources necessary to understand the information.
These are baseline requirements for a learner to “opt in” to your content. But for international learners, roadblocks in your course itself can prevent them from fulfilling those basic requirements. Here are a few obstacles an international learner might encounter:
- Language barriers
Only slightly under 5 percent of the world population are English speakers. Do you know how many of your members speak English as a second, third, or fourth language? Say you have an association member who does speak English, but it’s their second language. While they may be able to complete a course written in English, it may be significantly more difficult than if it was written in their native language.
- Cultural differences
Imagine you were raised in Japan, where you learned to bow when you meet someone in a professional setting and to avoid putting your hands in your pockets out of courtesy. Now you’re completing a course created by an association based in the United States of America, and the characters refer to their superiors by their first name, speaking casually, and certainly not bowing. Courses that fail to adapt to the culture of their learners present a barrier for understanding and are less engaging.
- Regional differences
Say you’re an association member who was born and raised in Egypt. You’re taking a course and two characters have this exchange:
Thomas: This deal is going south. We need to pull the plug.
Sandra: My back-of-the-napkin math says we don’t.
This course is clearly written for North Americans, and you feel disconnected. Regional differences extend beyond casual phrases—available resources, currency, and modes of transportation can all be impacted by region.
- Time zones
Let’s say your association is located in the Eastern Time Zone in the United States. If you host a live training session at 4 pm, members located in the same time zone will be able to participate fairly easily. Your London-based members, however, will need to stay up until 9 pm to participate, Beijing-based members will be tuning in at 4 am—you get the idea. Learners shouldn’t need to be night owls or early birds to take a course.
These obstacles don’t mean it’s impossible to create effective e-learning courses for your association’s global audience.
It just means that you, along with any e-learning content development partners you work with, need to effectively translate and localize content you create to remove these barriers to understanding.
Let’s explore this more in the next section.
So, you want to use translated and localized e-learning courses. What does that really mean?
What do we mean by translate and localize?
There are some misconceptions about translating e-learning courses for global audiences—the main one being that the process is as simple as copying and pasting your course into a translation service and calling it a day.
When you add localization to the e-learning translation equation, you adjust the course to represent the target culture as well. This means factoring in aspects such as the following:
For example, the French spoken in France is much different than the French spoken in Cameroon.
- Idioms, metaphors, and similes
While an English speaker might understand what “cold turkey” means, translating the phrase literally into other languages doesn’t work.
- Narrators and accents
If your narrators have US American accents but provide instruction in other languages, there will be a disconnect.
This includes the visuals shown throughout the course, speaking and nonspeaking characters included, and the cultural norms assumed (like the bowing already mentioned).
Adapting your courses for language and culture has benefits beyond making the course more relatable and accessible for global learners. It shows your association is committed to your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts and providing a diverse and equitable learning experience to all.
How can you create effective e-learning for global learners?
Let’s walk through an example course to demonstrate how you can create effective e-learning for global learners. At Artisan E-Learning, we were tasked with creating a course for JLG Industries that provided technical training in several languages.
We translated the course into the target languages, which included non-Western languages such as Japanese. Because the course itself focused on technical training to help learners understand how to operate large machinery, the visuals were fairly similar regardless of the region or culture they were shown in. But remember—that doesn’t mean we can just translate the text and call it a day!
Here are a few additional steps we took to make sure this course was useful for all learners:
- Used visual and interactive elements
We used synchronized animations, sliders, and motion paths to solidify the concepts and supplement the translated copy. If the text translation didn’t make sense to the global learner, the visual provided clarification.
- Prioritized mobile-friendliness
Learners could access the content regardless of where they were located or what their office set-up was like—a desktop computer in an office or a makeshift workspace on a train.
- Empowered global learners to practice concepts in the course
With drag-and-drop elements and simulations, global learners could practice the skills in JLG’s translated course before incorporating them into their day-to-day lives.
Earlier in this piece, we discussed how translating courses involves adjusting not just the language but the cultural aspects as well. The JLG course shows that the structure and format of the course can also create a more effective course for a global and remote audience.
Effectively training a global audience requires more than copying and pasting the text from your courses into a translation service. While translation is an important part of the process, it’s just one step in creating an effective e-learning course across languages.
Language, culture, and format all play a role in creating effective training for a global audience. We recommend keeping all these elements in mind when adjusting your courses and, even better, working with an e-learning content development team to make sure none of these aspects fall to the wayside.
About the Author
Amy Morrisey is the president of Artisan E-Learning and serves as sales & marketing manager. Amy started with Artisan as a contract writer/instructional designer. She was our production manager for four years and helped the team to double its capacity. As president, she stays focused on maintaining the high standards our clients have grown to expect. She believes that staying close to our clients, our people, and our work is a smart way to do that. One of her favorite things to do in the e-learning world is jump in with a client to write a storyboard that is creative and application-based. Before working with Artisan, Amy spent 17 years in corporate training and development, predominantly teaching leadership development and coaching teams and executives. She currently serves on the board of ATD Detroit.