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How to Globalize E-Learning

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Joe Mahaffey photoMultimedia E-Learning content is more than just modules of curriculum in your company’s learning database; these are company assets that help build cohesion and culture within your enterprise. Over the last decade, technological developments from Learning Content Management Systems to social networks and web 2.0 communities have drastically reduced the cost of deploying multimedia e- learning content on a global scale.

Are your learning assets ready for the world?


When considering how to prioritize learning content and curriculum for multimedia localization it is important to first examine the learning content that is considered most strategic for the organization. Companies with robust E-Learning libraries have already made strategic choices about content.

ClientSide News Magazine pictureLeadership curriculum is a common starting point, and is an E-Learning category that typically survives cuts during recessionary times. In learning organizations, shared vision is important for global achievement. Ensuring that core leadership E-Learning courses are available for your global leadership is important.

Some companies make the mistake of assuming that their in-country leadership speaks English, and that this content group is not as critical. While this may be true, it is still important to note that English is likely their second (or in some cases, third) language. Assuming that all of your organization’s leaders speak English is 20th Century thinking.

Today, companies and organizations need to adopt, what Peter Drucker calls, a transnational view of their business. This is a “Think Globally, Act Locally” approach that ensures that workflow methodologies, strategic corporate messages, and key development curriculum are available in-language for the greatest efficiency and results.

Best Practices: Producing for a Global Audience

The entire world is the stage for your E-Learning content and curriculum, and this is very important to remember when you are purchasing or creating modules for a library designed for global consumption.

Cultural neutrality is an important concept to remember in keeping production costs under control and maximizing the return on your learning investment. To ensure that your E-Learning will be neutral enough to work well in any culture, it is helpful if you consider that they will be localized when you create them:

  1. Keep it Simple – Use short sentences and phrases with simple verb choice.
  2. Use Glossaries for Consistent Terms – A person can say “computer monitor,” “computer display,” or “computer screen.” It is important to chose one and use it consistently.
  3. Avoid Colloquialisms and Sport Metaphors – Baseball analogies are quite common in the United States, but they do not translate very well in other parts of the world. The same goes for references to famous people.
  4. Graphics and Visuals – Avoid culturally sensitive photos and graphics; and, whenever possible, account for gender and race appropriately
  5. Include buffer on the audio track of your videos – Adjusting for language expansion is even more challenging for voice over than it is for on screen graphics. The less buffer there is, the more meaning you will have to cut from the script to fit it in the foreign languages.
  6. Limit on screen appearances – Voice overs are easier to localize for off screen narration.
  7. Limit the number of talent – Your extra cost to have several additional voices will end up multiplied by the number of target languages.
  8. Avoid synchronization of on screen animations or text with audio – In the case of video, it will make translation constraints even stricter, and in Flash it will require a native speaker to adjust the animations to match the timing of the audio in each language.

When dealing with video curriculum in your learning modules, you have a number of choices that can have a variety of impacts on multimedia translation costs. Some markets actually prefer subtitles to English, whereas others prefer lip-synched dubbing. Dubbing and subtitling can be affected by the language expansion that typically takes place when going from English to any other language.

To further complicate matters, the timing of the original source video stays the same regardless of the language.

This reality underscores the “keep it simple” practice discussed earlier.

How a learning department organizes and maintains their media assets can be a factor in the cost of in-language reproduction. Whenever possible, keep track of your source media: digital video files (dv), original Flash (fla) files, and your higher quality source audio files.

In-language reproduction time can be reduced when you can start from the source media. Once these formats have been compressed, having to back convert them to editable formats, for example converting an mp4 video back to a dv, or an mp3 file back to a wav, adds to the production costs, leads to a generation loss in quality, and sometimes is simply not possible, as with a swf animation.

Digitally Aware Deployment

Over the last decade, the various learning libraries that organizations have developed or acquired have become increasingly suited for the digital convergence phenomenon that has resulted in centrally stored, enterprise wide content assets. Further, the global workforce is increasingly digital native and tends to gravitate toward, and easily adopt, the diverse learning technologies available today. This development is expanding the options for E-Learning executives when considering a variety of delivery methods that offer lower deployment costs and are manageable within the Internet bandwidth variants found across the world.

Two significant tools in this process are the mp3 player and the smart phone platforms. These platforms offer numerous channels to deploy learning content. Colleges and Universities have pioneered this approach through vehicles like Apple’s iTunes University, and the numerous podcast options that can be delivered seamlessly via RSS Feeds.

These technologies are readily available for corporations to use and can be deployed through existing SCORM compliant Learning Content Management Systems and other web assets like Intranets. The versatility of these devices can offer learning executives new ways to push learning to the organization, and some content can be deployed outside of firewall infrastructures through the use of Cloud Computing, open source integrations, and social technologies like WordPress, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Second Life.

What’s Next?

In terms of technology and deployment options, it is important to remember that much of the content currently being deployed was developed in advance of some of the current deployment channels and methodologies. Each year, there are more innovations and evolutions that improve ways to promote learning.

This will not change, and learning executives should not worry about it. Instead, keep your focus on producing content with an understanding that learning is not just a domestic objective, but also a global imperative. A global shared vision can have a clear impact on both revenue and profits for the enterprise, and builds community that drives these behaviors and results.


Joe Mahaffey has fifteen years experience helping companies evaluate and deploy global content communication strategies. For the last six years, Joe has focused on helping organizations prioritize content for cost effective translation and localization. In April 2009, Joe joined JBI Studios as Vice President of Business Development. Joe has a Bachelors Degree from Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC and currently resides with his family in Charlotte, NC. Located in Los Angeles, JBI Studios is a leading provider of multimedia localization services for audio, video, and e-learning content. Services range from straight audio to video dubbing and subtitling.

Published - July 2009

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