Educated internationalization: Putting E-Learning localization to the test

Published in Budapest Business Journal, April 2012

The past decades have seen a gradual shift in education paradigms. The interconnectedness of today is greatly contributing to a change in how the concepts of knowledge and skills are perceived and defined – lexical knowledge is considered less and less to be the measure to go by while demand for new skill sets keeps emerging. The versatility of e-Learning renders it suitable for a variety of applications from distance training to highly-specialized proprietary knowledge transfer, yet they may all have the same weak spot in terms of localization.

The black box

It is a common mistake to consider localization as an add-on to translation, implying that it does not necessitate close cooperation between those who generate and adapt content. Localization treated as an afterthought often produces poorer quality and suboptimal workflows, resulting in longer timeframes and higher costs. When we consider how greatly educational materials are culturally embedded, the implications of such an approach may be even more severe.

Taking the high road

Although authoring tools specifically designed for e-Learning and supporting the SCORM standard are scarce, a large variety of software for creating educational content is available. While the tool often determines the end-user experience, and recent innovations, such as screencasting, require dedicated software, several general considerations should be examined before content development, regardless of the tool being used.

Technical design and content structuring are key elements of internationalization because flexible solutions help streamline the localization process and prevent mistakes from spiralling downstream. Video subtitling, dubbing and image editing are the most time-consuming aspects of localization. However, finalizing video transcripts before recording, using separate audio channels for voice talents and ensuring that text is not hard-coded into an image or video are examples of ways in which a considerable amount of time can be saved and costs reduced.

When writing content with localization in mind, it is worth favouring cross-cultural referencing and middle-of-the-road solutions that all potential audiences understand. If content is enrooted deeply in the culture it was influenced by, localization grows more and more complex and may require complete transcreation or rewriting.

Creating experiences

Nonetheless, adaptation of educational materials is a necessity in most cases, going even beyond the usual scope of localization. Because of different cultural characteristics, the complexity of the task can vary from target audience to target audience.

Customarily, substantive adaptation of cultural differences lies at the core of localization. Such elements include using images that are familiar to the targeted culture, adapting to the etiquette of the targeted culture, avoiding taboos, making adjustments for linguistic issues (such as grammatical genders, inflection, etc.), altering document layout, converting units, and so forth. Style guides are often taken as the source for setting out such language-specific rules, but some level of localization can also be achieved by experienced language professionals regardless of the availability of reference materials. Nonetheless, while such guidelines apply to educational content as well, other cultural challenges may also present themselves in the field of education, depending on the subject.

Responding to the distinctive pedagogical paradigms in different locales requires a deeper understanding of the targeted audience. Different cultures rely on distinctive approaches, and the success of courses heavily depends on the appropriate methodology. When it comes to creating experiences that harmonize with cultural characteristics, content has to be evaluated from a pedagogical point of view.

As opposed to errorless learning, learning through experience means that candidates make mistakes but the penalties are either low or non-existent. While the latter can be perfectly suited to Western audiences, such an approach may not lead to the best results for Eastern Asian learners. A related issue is that errorless learning prompts the teacher to be didactic and less focused on being facilitative, which needs to be taken into account when adapting educational materials.

Partly because of its technological background, e-Learning has evolved to favour independent learning. However, there has been a major advancement in this field. It is becoming common knowledge that cooperation, learner involvement and group motivation are perceived rather differently between cultures, and, while not necessarily inaccessible to each other, it can be worthwhile to take the initiative and tailor educational content to learners’ needs, enabling them to digest information faster and easier. Learners will certainly appreciate it.

Down the rabbit hole

In the future, e-Learning will most likely incorporate recent advancements in psychology and methods devised for mining the social web. By plugging in meta-content and real time communication dynamics as well as analysing underlying patterns, we will be able to take another step towards disenthralling ourselves from isolated education and localization methods, and advance towards more personalised learning.

Originally published in Budapest Business Journal, April 2012

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