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Asynchronous eLearning: Localization Challenges

eLearning

Asynchronous eLearning: Localization Challenges

As described in the first blog in our series of challenges with eLearning localization, when you say eLearning to people, it means many things. Asynchronous, synchronous and self-paced are three categories of eLearning, which are used in the academic, business and corporate training environments. When localizing all of these types of eLearning, the goal is to create equitable learning, meaning that all learners, despite their cultural differences, use the same amount of time and effort to generate the same knowledge and skills.

In this blog post, we’ll focus on asynchronous eLearning, which is typically used in the academic environment. Instructors and learners do not interact in real-time with asynchronous learning. Online platforms include features for managing lectures, documents and assignments, as well as tracking students and grading papers. They may also include interactive features like discussion forums or chat rooms in which students can collaborate on team projects. Examples of these include Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas and Google Classroom. Such platforms are supported by a learning and/or content management system.

Asynchronous eLearning platforms present multiple localization challenges because they reflect our American educational system, and subsequently, our values. Some of those features are impossible to address without redesigning the eLearning platform itself, so let’s look at aspects that we can modify to meet the needs of non-American students. Here are some media, methodology and content examples and cultural challenges from the asynchronous learning environment that is so popular with American online universities.

Media

The collaboration features of these platforms indicate that we expect students, via well-designed interactions, to construct meaning. Our western adult learning theories also tell us that adults learn by sharing their experiences in this process. However, in many other cultures such as Asian ones, students expect their instructors to be subject matter experts (SMEs) and thus, in university courses, professors typically pass their knowledge down to their students via lecture. Students often memorize content and professors assess them on their ability to recall it.

In contrast, American students are encouraged to generate their own knowledge, apply it to their needs, and experiment with what they have learned. Professors expect them to gather information and resources, and then they assess students on how well the students apply them. Thus, when Asian students enroll in American university courses, they may be suspicious of, and unwilling to participate in, these facilitated, collaborative activities. They may wonder if the instructor is lazy, inept or unqualified, and what classmates can offer that the instructor can’t.

Therefore, in designing asynchronous eLearning training, consider:

  1. How do you localize the role of the instructor?
  2. How do you localize an instructional technique?

Methodology and Examples

Another challenge related to this one is that Asian countries and cultures tend to be very hierarchical. In a university setting, a student would never question the professor or challenge what has been said. Content is typically consumed verbatim. In contrast, Americans are from a very egalitarian culture, and students expect to interact with a professor in the same way in which they engage their classmates. They want answers when they want them, when needed and even sometimes in a challenging manner.

Regarding content, American instructors may not realize that their content could be irrelevant or out of context for non-American students. Instead, they assume that a topic such as statistics, for example, is a black and white science, and therefore, void of cultural influences. However, content is a cultural artifact and it is embedded with our cultural values and nuances. Oftentimes, you can easily recognize American content that requires localization services. For example, if a statistics problem addresses how too much variability (standard error) in the ingredients of Flintstones vitamins creates problems, it’s easy to localize Flintstone vitamins to something more globally (or locally) recognized or remove the reference entirely.

In contrast, a problem that requires learners to survey the real estate data from the multiple listing services (MLS) in their local newspaper takes more effort to localize. Very few countries outside of the United States have an MLS, so the approach becomes ineffective or useless.

Consider:

  1. How do you localize relationships?
  2. How do you localize content including examples at the instructional design level before you pay for translation and technical localization?

Content

Our final example also relates to content. All of these things affect how learners absorb content:

  1. The words themselves (jargon, colloquialisms, etc.).
  2. How the content is written (content organization, approach, etc.).
  3. How we structure our content (grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, etc.).

When writers use too many words, unfamiliar terminology, complicated sentences, etc., all learners, but particularly non-native English speakers, spend significantly more time and effort reading, re-reading, (misreading) and interpreting content. In some cases, culturally inappropriate words may actually alienate learners. In most cases, content can be edited down by 30-50% to not only retain meaning but also to improve it.

Before sending content to translation:

  1. How do you globalize your language to maximize comprehension while facilitating translation?
  2. How do you reduce content to make your points clear and succinct?

Conclusion

In all these scenarios, equitable learning was inhibited. The targeted learners may consider such eLearning courses ineffective, irrelevant or even erroneous. Educational institutions consider these courses as wasted resources (time, financial and human), and they may potentially generate risk with an untrained workforce. These examples illustrate the need to localize eLearning from the perspective of media, methodology and content.

Our goal as a localization company is to help you achieve equitable learning outcomes for your customers. We provide comprehensive localization and translation services for eLearning and training courses. We can help you identify problem areas within your eLearning courses in order to help you achieve equitable learning outcomes.

In our next blog, we’ll review the localization challenges in the related, yet different, environment of synchronous eLearning.