Tips for Localizing E-Learning Content

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With internet access becoming faster and more accessible, there are more and more students opting to learn online. Also known as distance learning, e-learning is a big business that is growing internationally. If you’re hoping that your e-learning content reaches a global audience, you’ll need to make sure to localize it effectively for each target language and region.

Localization means taking source content and translating and adapting it to be culturally appropriate for a particular country/region. This means more engagement globally with your content as well as making your international audiences feel valued and respected.

Before you start the localization process, be sure to read this blog for some helpful tips for localizing e-learning modules.

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photo by Paul Hanaoka

A Brief History of E-Learning

E-learning is a fairly new term that came into use starting in 1999 at a computer-based training seminar. Also known as “online learning” or “virtual learning,” modern distance learning started in the 1960s, when the first computer-based training program was developed called “Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations” or PLATO. It offered drills and the user could skip questions. However, it came at the whopping cost of $12,000.

In 1984, when the first Macintosh (now known as the Mac) came onto the market, it made it more affordable for users to learn at home. From there, the e-learning industry grew and it boomed alongside the major internet developments in the 1990s when online-only schools started popping up. 

blue and white mail box

photo by Element 5 Digital

Preparing Content for Localization

Since the 1990s, e-learning has become easier to create and localize thanks to technology as well as creating with localization challenges in mind.

When planning to localize written text, graphics, and/or animations, it’s important to keep in mind a few different language characteristics that affect these elements in translation.  First, word and sentence length vary from language to language, and as a result, during translation the length of the text can expand (in the case of English>German) or contract (in the case of English>Mandarin). Also, some languages are written left to right (e.g. English, French), while others are written right to left (e.g. Arabic, Hebrew). Additional complications can arise for differences in sentence structure, for example, going from a subjectverbobject language (like English) to a subjectobjectverb language (like Korean and Japanese).

These differences can cause challenges when e-learning text or animation layouts are based on the number of words or lines in the source language, or when specific sentence elements are highlighted and emphasized either with different text sizes and colors or by syncing them with images. In these cases, the differing length of the translated text and differing order of the sentence elements may require a re-design of the localized animation rather than simple text replacement.  To prepare for these challenges, extra space should be left available on screen so that content can be easily re-positioned or resized without being cut off or getting in the way of other visual elements.  Sync points should also be considered carefully in the source language knowing that it might not map identically once localized.

These differences in language characteristics also affect the script translation and its timing with video animations for subtitles and voice-over. In an e-learning video, certain visual elements appear on screen at specific times. For instance, if you have an e-learning video with an employee presenting a new line of products, the timing of when the speaker mentions each product name generally should line up with the image of the product.  Keeping the product on-screen for a longer duration provides sync flexibility for translations that mention the product name earlier or later in the natural target language text.

To seamlessly address these situations when localizing a project, it’s helpful for the localization team to have access to the editable source files in order to make any adjustments to the text and animation in order for the timing and visuals to match. Also, if the text is moving or overlaps, it can become extremely difficult, if not impossible, to replace the text appropriately without the editable source files.

city skyline under cloudy sky during daytime

photo by Scott Webb

Cultural and Localization Considerations to Keep in Mind

Graphics and animation are key components to e-learning and help engage your audience. It’s important to understand the target culture that one is localizing for in order to make sure that the content is using culturally appropriate images and colors.

For instance, in the U.S., the color white represents purity, innocence. However, in China, Korea, and a few other Asian countries, white represents death and is traditionally worn at funerals. In Western countries, the color red can mean blood, passion, or danger whereas in China it can mean luck, wealth, and happiness. Knowing what certain colors mean to your target audience may affect the color scheme that you use.

Another thing to keep in mind is how certain symbols or gestures are perceived in the target culture. The dollar sign ($) is used in America, but is also used in Mexico (peso), Canada (Canadian dollar), Australia (Australian dollar), and the currencies may need to be adjusted or clarified in your e-learning content to avoid confusion. The “ok” sign in the U.S., making a circle with your thumb and index finger, is insulting in Brazil. Crossing your fingers, perceived as good luck in some cultures, is like giving the middle finger in Vietnam.

photo by Marvin Meyers


We’ve seen in the past few years major growth in Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as Coursera and Udemy as more and more people are looking for convenient, affordable ways to expand their skill set. International corporations are also using training modules to help ensure high standards and practices throughout their organization in different parts of the world.

To keep up with this rising demand and to reach your global audience, take the time to have your e-learning content localized by a localization studio with in-country partners, such as JBI Studios. This will help ensure that your content is localized effectively, does not offend your target audience, and will result in greater engagement with your content.

Want to localize you’re e-learning content? Make sure you don’t miss an important element by downloading our free checklist below:

Click to download JBI Studio’s e-Learning, Audio & Video Localization Quote Checklist.