There are two interrelated aspects to designing e-learning courses. One is the on-screen user interface design—the look of the graphical interface, the media used, etc. The second is the learning methodology relied on—the order of presentation of the information, the use of examples and case studies, the method of assessment used, etc.
The MTM LinguaSoft white paper “Designing E-learning for Translation” deals with many of the issues involved in the design process. For instance:
- Authoring Tools: Make sure that the authoring tools you are using allow the text to be translated to be easily exported and reimported into the elearning application.
- Graphics: Avoid graphics with embedded text that will need to be recreated with the translated text. Use labels instead. Try to avoid graphics that might be culturally or politically offensive—icons, hand gestures, and maps can be particularly problematic.
- White Space: The length of text can expand by as much as 50% in translation, depending upon the language. Be sure to leave plenty of white space, both in the body text and in text boxes, buttons, etc.
The learning methodology that the course is based on can also introduce cultural biases. People from different cultures rely on different sets of values and beliefs and may be used to different methods of information presentation and assessment methods. Because of this, it is particularly helpful to break down the course into small components that can be more easily moved around or replaced.
In determining how to break down a course, it is helpful to look at the major types of changes that are likely to be needed to localize a course for a particular audience:
- the examples and case studies relied on;
- the organization of materials and assessment methods; and
- the technology/media used in the course.
E-learning Localization: Examples and Case Studies
Examples and case studies are two very important ways to help students to relate to the course material and make it more likely the students will remember the information. But the usefulness of case studies relies on assumptions about the students’ experiences that may not be true from culture to culture. Sports examples are very common, but are particularly likely to be culturally bound.
Even small details that are unfamiliar may be jarring and impede learning. Andrea Edmundson, an acknowledged expert in e-learning localization, tells of the time when she decided that a financial training module from the UK could be incorporated into an American training course. She received a lot of complaints about the fact that the course materials spoke in pounds instead of dollars and students were put off and confused by this. And this was a case in which the type of currency used in the examples really should have made no difference in the students’ ability to understand the point being made.
E-learning Localization: Learning Methodology
The order in which information is presented in a course relies on assumptions not only about the best way to engage students but also about the students’ cultural backgrounds. These are assumptions that have to be challenged when taking a course developed for one culture to a different culture.
In the United States, for example, it may be common to start with a provocative question to grab the students’ interest and then to introduce the material that will give them the answer. In other, more risk-averse cultures, this approach may be off-putting or confusing. In these cultures, it may be better to go straight to the information you are trying to get across.
And because of cultural differences, it may be necessary to introduce some concepts with “scaffolding”—supporting information to explain a concept that is unfamiliar in that culture or that may be viewed differently in that culture. Edmundson has given the example of teaching business ethics in a country where bribery is common and not necessarily disapproved. For a multinational company, it may be necessary to include the subject in a business ethics course, but also to introduce the concept with information about the different view of the practice in other countries and legal systems.
Finally, if a method of assessment is involved, it may be advisable to change the method used or to have more frequent assessments, depending upon what testing methods are common in the other culture as well as the relative familiarity of the course subject in that culture.
The technical infrastructure of different countries and regions can vary tremendously. In some places, internet connections may be less ubiquitous and slower. In many places, the major means of access to the internet may be mobile devices. Things like embedded videos or other media that increase the bandwidth requirements may make the course difficult to access or use. Cultural reactions to media such as video can also vary. Therefore, the course should allow for the substitution of this type of content with more basic content.
In summary, in the process of designing the individual components of an online e-learning course that will be localized, the goal is to be able to adapt as necessary while reusing as much content as possible.