computers in a circle connected to the globe in the middelThe business case for e-learning is well-established, but what about the business case for e-learning globalization? How can you compute the ROI of globalizing and localizing e-learning for foreign-language audiences?

First, let’s look briefly at the factors for analyzing the expected return on e-learning itself. We will then look at how the extra steps of globalization and localization affect each of these factors.

There are benefits, costs, and risks to creating e-learning.

On the benefit side:

  • Faster employee competency: Employees learn faster at their own pace. Productivity increases more rapidly.
  • Flexibility: Employees can learn anytime and anywhere, even at home.
  • Consistency: Content will be uniform for all participants.
  • Repeatability: Information can be reviewed anytime.
  • Reusability: The same content can be reused over and over and revisions can be limited to relevant modules.
  • Reduction in travel costs

The major costs include:

  • Technology: both content development tools and optimally a learning management system (LMS).
  • Content development
  • Learning staff: Knowledgeable employees or independent contractors must be hired or staff must be reassigned to manage the process, plan and write the curriculum, design the modules, etc.
  • Training: Personnel must be trained in using the LMS system.
  • Help desk support: Help desk personnel must be available to deal with technical questions about the LMS and the course modules.
  • Learning culture development: The company has to develop a culture that encourages and rewards use of the new tools.

The major risks are:

  • Vendor relationships: Relationships with new technology vendors for authoring tools and LMS systems are always unpredictable, although due diligence and dealing with problems quickly as they arise can limit uncertainty.
  • Managing high initial costs: Upfront costs for technology, staff, and training will be high and there are always some unexpected costs. Leaving a margin for uncertainty in your budget and planning out the spending will help.
  • Content quality: How well a course will work is always somewhat uncertain until it is actually in use, but careful design and testing will minimize this risk.

This ROI analysis is also applicable to training and educational companies that are developing e-learning modules for sale. The costs of development and support involved may be similar, with the difference that the high upfront costs will hopefully be spread over time among a large number of customers. Also, any new staff hired to work on development and marketing of the software will not be support personnel hired to support company staff development; they will be focused on the company’s main mission—the development and sale of educational courses.

The main risk for companies developing e-learning content for sale is, of course, the market risk. Will the product’s sales justify the costs of development? As with any other service or product, analyzing demand, researching the competition, and focusing on your particular market strengths—such as prior experience in training and specific niches—are always important.

So you’ve done this analysis and decided to go ahead with development. Why incur the extra costs of globalizing the course?

What globalizing e-learning adds to ROI

Too often, considerations of whether to globalize e-learning focus almost entirely on the costs involved. The importance and benefits of developing e-learning courses in the first place may be obvious, but globalizing and localizing a course may seem like an unnecessary expenditure when “all our employees ‘know’ English” or “we can just sell to English speakers.” A failure to localize, though, can negatively affect the expected benefits from the training and decrease the acceptability of the e-learning course in other markets.

We do not want to minimize the costs involved in globalizing e-learning, especially if the globalization is carried out according to best practices. Here are the steps, each with its own costs in time and money:

  1. Develop a single content source, prepared from scratch or adapted with localization in mind. This may require experienced outside consultants.
  2. Check your technology for compatibility with the translation process. This includes planning for how content can be imported and exported for translation, and how well the technology handles non-Latin characters and right-to-left text. An investment in new technology may be called for.
  3. Design the course, including all its components, with localization in mind. Among other things, this means considering what different devices might be used to access the course.
  4. Internationalize all coding
  5. Adapt the original course to the culture of the localities in which it will be used or sold. This involves considering things like the tone (informal or formal) that would be expected; the teaching techniques that are successful in that locale; the cultural appropriateness of graphics or other material, such as examples; and relevant local laws, usages, or conditions. For instance, you may want to change dollars to euros, or replace an example linked with a cold weather climate to one more suited to the tropics. Again, you may want to hire consultants with cultural expertise.
  6. Translate the localized content.
  7. Test the course on members of its intended audience.
  8. Test the course on the electronic devices that members of the target audience are most likely to use for accessing the course.

These costs can be minimized if your e-learning development strategy takes the possibility of localization into account from the start, but they will be probably be substantial. Nevertheless, they may be necessary to realize the most benefits (educated employees or expanded sales) from your investment in e-learning development.

Schooley quotes from some earlier Forrester research on e-learning effectiveness:

Overwhelming evidence has shown that learning in an online environment can be as effective as that in traditional classrooms. Students’ learning in the online environment is affected by the quality of online instruction. Not surprisingly, students in well-designed and well-implemented online courses learned significantly more, and more effectively, than those in online courses where teaching and learning activities were not carefully planned and where the delivery and accessibility were impeded by technology problems. [Emphasis added]

It is that “quality” that gets lost when educational materials are not localized. People learn best in their own language. In fact, research has shown that people who are taught something in another language often think they understand more than they actually do. They make sense out of it, but possibly not the sense you want them to make. For them, a well-implemented course means one in their own language, using examples and teaching styles that they can relate to.

Lots of research also indicates that people are more likely to buy products in their own language. How much more likely is this to be true for training materials? Most people are strongest in their native language. Given any choice, it’s very likely that they will choose something in their own language, even if it costs more.

In other words, to fully realize the benefits of bringing e-learning courses to other cultures–whether to sell or to train your company’s own employees–localization is vital.

Download our Localization Quick Guides, “Designing E-Learning for Translation” and “Cultural Adaptation of E-Learning” »

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