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Culture Matters: Going Beyond Language to Create Effective E-Learning

Wednesday, January 31, 2024
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Globally, there are more than 7,000 languages spoken today, with many more regional variants.

To achieve successful learning outcomes for international audiences, it’s usually best to present learning content in the learner’s native language and in the context of their own culture.

However, word-to-word translation of the text is often insufficient to convey the meaning of your content. In fact, it can sometimes result in confusing or even offensive messages.

Localization goes beyond translation to ensure your content successfully resonates with the target audience. This includes adapting the text, graphics, video elements, and interactions to align with the local culture.

It can be difficult to build training content that achieves the same outcomes and conveys the same depth of meaning across all languages, as many words and phrases do not translate directly. For example, idioms and colloquialisms like ballpark or piece of cake must be rewritten in the localization process to avoid confusion and ensure you’re conveying the intended meaning. Best practice is to avoid using such words and phrases in the first place for content that will be translated into other languages.

Ensuring the design still speaks to the learner is also important. Localization-friendly design practices help ensure the content resonates and that learners can absorb, retain, and apply the content as intended. It also prevents the long and costly revision process that often occurs when localization is an afterthought.


Learner Preferences Differ Culturally

Even when our text is translated perfectly, and our images, color palettes, and multimedia are culturally aligned, we can still miss the mark if the behaviors we’re asking of our learners fall too far outside their cultural norm.

For example, in the US, learners are used to interactive and self-guided learning where they incorporate their own knowledge and opinions and take charge of their experience. In other cultures, the teacher is highly revered, and students are not accustomed to voicing their own opinions or raising challenging questions. Expecting these students to behave differently can create confusing and uncomfortable situations.

So, making your training right for everyone, everywhere, may not always be a simple or straightforward process.

When developing learning content for international audiences, localization is a must. It is essential to achieve business-critical learning outcomes, build credibility in your company, and give your learners a sense of belonging and importance.


Some types of content, like DEI or leadership training, benefit from the expertise of in-market instructional designers who understand the cultural nuances of the subject matter.

In one approach, called Concurrent Authoring, instructional designers and developers native to each target market simultaneously create courses using the same source content. This not only results in content highly tailored to the culture in which it’s being delivered, but it can also dramatically reduce the challenges often associated with localizing learning content from English into other languages.

This approach also has the advantage of both speed and authenticity. It uses in-country experts to ensure that the content matches both the linguistic and cultural needs of the specific learners. And it’s an ideal approach when your content is important and culturally sensitive, and when you need to manage delivery times against tight schedules.

The diversity of humanity is fascinating and enriching. But it means that for e-learning, one size doesn’t fit all.

Taking time to localize your content to suit different markets and audiences is vital to connect with and engage your diverse, international learners and achieve better learning outcomes.

About the Author

Rachel Cary is an e-learning consultant, specialized in helping companies deliver culturally relevant learning content to global audiences. She has a background in neuroscience and marketing and over 10 years' experience in L&D, where she designed courses for audiences, including corporate leaders, college students, senior citizens, and ESL learners. From this work, Rachel learned the nuances and the value of learner-centered design, which she now applies on a global scale that spans languages and cultures.

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nice read
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