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Self-Paced eLearning: Localization Challenges

As mentioned in the previous blogs in our series of challenges with eLearning localization, cultural limitations in eLearning platforms can inhibit the achievement of equitable learning outcomes. This means that all learners, despite their cultural differences, use the same amount of time and effort to generate the same knowledge and skills. We first discussed the different types of eLearning, which are synchronous, asynchronous and self-paced. We then discussed the localization challenges with asynchronous eLearning and synchronous eLearning.

In this blog post, we’ll review the localization challenges in the asynchronous environment of self-paced eLearning. What distinguishes the translation and localization needs for self-paced eLearning from those of the asynchronous university models? The fact that there is no instructor, ever. Instead, course designers must create self-paced courses as if there was an instructor, which places additional demands on their cultural knowledge. Why? Because you need to know how the targeted learners expect to be taught and learn. Be very careful about making assumptions as most educational systems are unlike the American model. By recognizing these differences, course designers and developers can identify:

1. What content to present and how.
2. What instructional design approaches to use, including any assessments of learning.
3. What media to use.

Let’s look at examples of how content, methodology and media should be different for eLearning content using fictional examples of an ethics course and a disability awareness course.


In an ethics course, an American multinational corporation wants to promote its code of conduct to its 88 global offices. One course in the curriculum covers the company’s policies and expectations of its employees with respect to their relationships with vendors. In particular, the course stresses that employees should never demonstrate any favoritism to vendors, fraternize with them or accept gifts or bribes of any kind. However, employees in several emerging economies will be taking the course as well. In these countries, the norm has been to befriend business colleagues and build relationships, whether through favors, gifts, nepotism, etc., to facilitate the conduct of business, especially in bureaucratic countries. In addition, it’s often common business practice in these countries to accept or offer bribes and gifts in order to conduct business.

Another American company, a global tech support center, is creating a course on disability awareness for its customer support staff. The company wants staff to treat customers with disabilities according to U.S. values and law. However, many staff members work in countries that do not have the same laws, policies and accommodations like those in the U.S. For example, some of the assistive technologies available in the U.S. are non-existent in many countries.

So how does a course localization team modify the content to address these cultural differences? The course content needs to be written, and presented, in a manner differently than is used for the American audience in order to effectively address these critical concepts in the context of the targeted audiences’ experiences and values.
We’ll talk more about how content is written in another post, but here, terminology distinctions warrant attention. In the American version of the course, the authors stressed that support staff address customers as people with disabilities, instead of the disabled, the handicapped, etc., to focus on people instead of their disabilities, an American cultural value. However, from the perspective of translation, this distinction presents a challenge. For example, in German, the word behinderung tends to represent disability, handicapped, etc. The same situation exists in other languages. Thus, courses need to be written in ways that contextualize terminology nuances.


In the ethics course, designers introduced the concept of unacceptable vendor relationships using a case study in the first screen of the course. They challenged learners to review an ethical situation and decide on the most appropriate course of action. Learners in risk-adverse cultures (high uncertainty avoidance) protested that the course was testing them without first providing content that held the answers. The goal of the ethical situation was to pique the interest of learners; however, some people felt that they were being evaluated unfairly.

In the disability awareness course, the authors required that learners pass a final assessment with a score of 80% or greater. In the pilot study, learners in risk-adverse cultures protested that the assessment was unfair because it did not cover scenarios explicitly included in the course content. In the American education system, we expect learners to extrapolate information to new situations; however, in many countries, rote learning is the norm.
Therefore, in designing self-paced eLearning, consider these questions:

1. How do course developers accommodate their cultural preference for a more didactic approach to learning?
2. How can course developers accommodate their cultural expectation that all answers will be offered in the course content?


In the ethics course, the images of office environments showed a young, female CEO. Several Eastern European companies rejected the course, stating to sales representatives that the course did not accurately reflect their environment. For example, in their countries, less than 1% of executives were female, and those that were tended to be older.

In the disability awareness course, authors talked about the assistive technologies available to people with disabilities but did not show any images of these technologies. In many countries, such technologies just do not exist yet. In addition, they wanted call center staff to be able to recognize when a caller was using, for example, voice recognition software. However, they did not provide any audio components so that learners could recognize the sounds of these technologies.


1. How do course developers contextualize differences in examples and imagery?
2. How do course designers use media to support unfamiliar concepts?

For more information, check out our Audio/Video Translation page.

Localization of Rapid eLearning Courses Versus Customized Ones

We also mentioned in a previous blog that there are two basic ways of creating eLearning courses.

Use Authoring Tools

You can use a variety of authoring tools (course design software). In this case, companies need to educate their staff on the importance of cultural differences, and train them to incorporate appropriate content, methodology and media into their course design.

Create Custom Courses

If you have a team of technologists and designers, they can create custom modules. The course stakeholders, such as project managers, need to coordinate the work of the creative staff, such as video producers, graphic designers, scriptwriters, etc. to create, at a minimum, internationalized versions of eLearning courses. In other words, courses that are void of obvious Americanisms. In addition, project managers need to ensure that development teams are using technologies that are localization ready.


Remember, eLearning localization goes beyond technology and images. We look at each eLearning course from one of the most important perspectives: from that of the targeted learners. Our goal is to ensure that your courses deliver equitable learning outcomes for all users, no matter what their culture or language. By conducting a cultural analysis, we can identify issues with your course’s content (language, relevance, etc.), instructional approach (methodologies, learning styles, etc.) and media (images, icons, voice, etc.) before you spend money on technical localization and translation.