Mastering Hidden Cultural Challenges in eLearning Localization
In taking eLearning to a
foreign market, cultural differences can be just as tricky as translating the
content into a new language. Some problems can hide in plain sight — obvious to
locals, but invisible to outsiders.
With training programs, it's
crucial to go beyond translation and take a detailed look at how local culture
might affect the reception of your product. Localization for product training
(such as a course on using a new software application) is likely to face few
issues with the underlying content but still require good linguistic and
technical adaptation. But for training in soft skills, such as management or
sales techniques, attention to cultural norms related to the core premise and
content might make the difference between success and failure. In either case,
local nuances need to be considered to fully localize courses.
How do you tackle the
challenge of adapting eLearning to a different cultural context? Here are a few
1. Determine the kind and level of interaction you
want with trainees. Some eLearning techniques rely heavily on multimedia
such as videos, Flash animations or slideshows where viewers don't need to do
much beyond press a button to see the next step. Other methods make trainees
take a more active role in their own learning. For instance, an eLearning
module could ask trainees to complete a series of tasks or take quizzes as they
With each additional level of
interactivity between user and product, more potential challenges arise. For
example, some quiz formats or forms of feedback might be more familiar or
acceptable than others. An American-made interactive test might give the
trainee a "thumbs-up" to indicate a correct answer — but this seemingly innocuous
cause offense (or just lead to
mockery) in parts of Africa, The Middle East, Latin America and Southern
Europe. If features such as these aren't spotted early on, before the time-consuming task of multimedia translation (which may
also involve overdubbing and transcription), then the interactive test may
require changes late in process — adding to your timeline and budget.
2. Get your cultural norms straight. This aspect of eLearning can be hard to vet and raise
problems that are difficult to anticipate. What seems to be "common sense" in one country
can be just the opposite in others.
A failure to account for
everyday norms in your target market can have an outsized impact. In 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported that a
producer of online driver training courses had expanded into 20 countries before
realizing its ambitious rollout had major problems with localization. In the
end, it had to shell out around $1 million to correct these mistakes.
Besides poor translation, a
lack of attention to cultural nuances helped to undermine the effectiveness of
the company's product. For instance, the aforementioned online training course
taught drivers that the center lane on a multi-lane highway is the safest. But
that advice proved to be completely incorrect in Dubai, where the center lane
is used only for passing, and is problematic for Western European countries
that enforce similar rules. The firm could have saved itself time and money if
it had realized how crucial such details were to its overseas expansion.
3. Seek out expert knowledge. You may need to tap into expert knowledge before even handing
over your content for translation and localization. For instance, you don't
want a course on managing employees or conducting employment interviews to give
information that contradicts local labor laws. (By the same token, some
interview questions that are illegal in the United States might be fine in other
markets.) Similarly, a course on how to manage annual reviews may work better
if it takes local management styles or attitudes toward criticism into account.
In this case, a human resources expert with in-country experience might be able
to recommend adjustments.
In short, never assume that
all the content of your original eLearning course is universally acceptable or
valid. The safe bet is to have subject-matter experts versed in the local
culture vet your products in each target market.
4. Conduct a separate content review for each target
market. Even markets that share the
same language require individual treatment. For example, if you are localizing
your eLearning course into Spanish for Mexico, Spain and Argentina, you may
need to get local input from each country. Even next-door neighbors such as
Venezuela and Ecuador may have cultural differences that call for tailored
If the initial review phase
produces different recommendations for different markets, you have two choices: you can either rework the copy of your English course to make it more universal
(this will probably be less expensive in the end), or develop separate
solutions for each local market. By identifying areas that need
truly local variations, you can customize critical information to a market
while leveraging the majority of the translation across markets. The ideal
solution for you will depend on the nature of your training program — ask your
translation partner for input if you are unsure.
Of course, training products
vary tremendously in subject matter, scope and complexity. Contact
Acclaro today to learn how we can
help you localize your training and eLearning content. And, read our top ten tips on training and eLearning localization.