How eLearning localization is revolutionizing workforce training

In 2020, businesses spent around $1,000 per employee on education. The reason is clear – the quality of worker training can make or break a company. Yet, even the most outstanding training program falls short when the workforce is multilingual, and the curriculum is not.

Once upon a time, training a global workforce meant sending trainers around the world. In the digital age, companies have turned to eLearning to deliver courses without the expenses associated with an international teaching force. Besides the obvious cost savings, eLearning is faster, allows employees to learn at their own pace, and guarantees that the material is being presented consistently across the globe.

While the information shouldn’t change from one location to another, the way it’s presented should. What makes sense to Nate in New York could baffle Sergio in Sao Paolo. This goes beyond just translation. The right words in the wrong cultural context can have a completely different meaning – as any Brit who has ordered “chips” in an American pub can tell you.

This is where eLearning localization comes in.

What is eLearning localization?

Effective education is built upon two fundamentals: knowing your end goal and knowing your audience. How to perform routine tasks, brand guidelines for speaking to customers, and safety protocols are all end goals your training might seek to accomplish.

Knowing your audience means presenting information that gets them to the end goal. It’s not important that Nate and Sergio receive the same word-for-word instruction on safety protocols; what’s important is they both understand exactly what those protocols are. Localization respects learners’ language and culture and understands how these influence the way they learn.

Localization is a step beyond translation. It considers cultural context, awareness, and adapts the eLearning curriculum so the message is delivered in a way learners will understand and retain it.

Benefits of localizing workforce training

English is widely considered “the language of business,” so some companies develop eLearning courses in English and call it a day. In fact, there is perhaps no more important time to teach someone in their native language than when you are training them in how to do their job. Consider these benefits of eLearning localization:

  1. Improved comprehension
  2. One of the biggest benefits of eLearning is how easy it is to remember. The Research Institute of America estimates people retain 25 to 60 percent of the content they learn in online courses, as opposed to 8 to 10 percent of what they learn in a traditional classroom. But these gains can be diluted or erased by presenting information in a learner’s second language.
  3. Your brain can only concentrate on so many tasks at a time. This is called “cognitive load.” When information is presented in a non-native tongue, learners’ brains must first translate it before committing it to memory. This makes the information harder to recall, slower to absorb, and opens the door to misinterpretation.
  4. Increased productivity
  5. The vast majority of people – upwards of 90 percent – prefer learning in their native language. When training material reflects learners’ culture and language, the benefit is twofold.
  6. First, the material is easier to understand and remember. Second, the company sends an inclusive message that it cares about its employees’ experience. Either of these can motivate workers to excel at their jobs. Taken together, they’re a potent elixir for efficiency, productivity, and employee retention.
  7. Improved safety
  8. When it comes to safety training, the enhanced understanding that comes from localized eLearning can literally save lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), language differences are one of the most frequently cited worker safety challenges companies face. The time and cost involved in localizing training modules is peanuts compared to the cost of worker injuries.
  9. Training workers in their native language contributed to a 30 percent decrease in injuries at Torcon Inc., a construction company that works in the continental US and Puerto Rico.
  10. Domestic companies can also benefit. Wenner Bread, an American employer, has a large Spanish-speaking workforce. By providing workers a choice of whether to receive their safety training in Spanish or English, the bakery brought its injury rate to below the industry average, while improving productivity and product quality.

How to localize eLearning courses

Modern software tools have made eLearning courses easy to create and translate. For example, Adobe Captivate allows captions to be exported to an XML file. A tech-savvy translator can localize the captions, then import the file back into the tool. Tools like Articulate Storyline have simplified translating into right-to-left languages like Arabic and Hebrew, and double-byte character sets like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean.

It’s important that your translation partner has the know-how to preserve the formatting of an online course as it is localized. Many languages expand or contract, so a text box that fits just right for English may be too small for its Spanish translation. Likewise, when translated audio tracks are recorded, you must adjust the timing of the voiceovers so that they are in sync with the visuals.

There can be vast differences in the way a Spanish speaker from Spain, another from Mexico, and one from Argentina all understand the same sentence. Localization goes beyond words and examines the information in its larger context. Do the visuals make sense? Is the use of color, hand gestures, and symbols culturally appropriate? Nothing in the training module should get in the way of the lesson.

In eLearning courses, it’s critical that the intelligence behind the course is translated accurately. Action buttons and mouse-over text must make sense. If the learner is expected to type in an answer, the translator and course designer need to teach the software which responses should be marked as correct and incorrect.

Why localization matters

In a business sense, globalization has made the world smaller. It’s as easy to do business with someone in another country as with someone just down the road. Culturally speaking, however, the world is as big as it ever was. Adjusting for differences in language and understanding is critical to finding success in connecting with international audiences.

A good training program considers both the visible and invisible differences between cultures. It enhances not only workers’ ability to do their jobs, but also their perception of their employer and how they fit into the big picture of the company.