Best Practices for E-Learning Localization


Training localization is often an afterthought in training projects. “Oh, we can just translate the course in a few days, no problem.”  The reality is that localization can be a costly and lengthy undertaking if not properly approached. The amount of deliverables is increased for each language you translate the course into. If you have an e-learning course that will be presented in two languages, you need to have double the templates, tables of contents, sets of text content, certificates, etc. You also need to take the time to create the two courses, test each course individually, perhaps publish each one individually, and more.

Here are 8 best practices that you should follow when localizing your next e-learning course.

Consider localization during initial project planning

The localization should be an integral part of your project planning; take it into consideration during every aspect of the design and development. One of the most common and costly mistakes is waiting until the e-learning course has been created and then deciding to translate all the content. This usually leads to headaches, problems and cost overruns. Decide ahead of time of whether or not your content will be presented in multiple languages. Certain components of the e-learning will need to be designed in such a way that it can be easily be translated into multiple languages.

Create a localization-friendly design

Design photos and text placeholders that are easily changed and edited. Ensure that the components that will be translated are easily manipulated without affecting the generic content that will remain the same throughout. Take this into consideration when designing headings and titles, text placement on a page, image placement, as well as symbols and icons.

Be sensitive to cultural differences

Be sensitive and aware of anything that might be offensive to another culture. Images that seem innocent or that represent something for one culture may have a completely different meaning to another culture. Colors also have various meanings for different cultures. For example, purple represents richness and royalty to Westerners; in Thailand it represents death and mourning. Of course certain things, such as the color of your corporate logo, can’t be changed. Nevertheless, it is still a good practice to take cultural differences into consideration when designing an e-learning course.

Consider linguistic issues

Certain symbols and icons represent different things across various cultures. For example, your “Help” section may be represented by a question mark. Certain languages do not use question marks. This means you will need to change it to a different symbol for another language. Certain countries use the metric vs. the imperial systems for measurement. If your e-learning course has measurements, this will also need to be taken into consideration. It is also best practice to avoid using slogans and culturally specific examples that are hard to explain o translate into other languages.

Design for expanding text

When designing for websites it is expected that the text will expand 20-30% when translated into another language; this can also be expected for e-learning designs. Some languages require more words to explain certain concepts or ideas. something that can be explained in one sentence in English might take two or three sentences to explain in French or Spanish. This is because the latter are “wordier” languages. If the text placeholder in your e-learning course only has room for one sentence, it will lead to design issues when content is being translated.

Minimize use of embedded text in graphics and videos

It is difficult to translate text within the spacial constraints of a graphic image such as a flow-chart or diagram. If it is necessary to use images with embedded text, try to use layers in your graphics. It’s a good idea to design the graphic in all the required languages at the same time, to avoid headaches down the line.

Finalize in one language before localizing

Have one version of your e-learning completely nailed down, edited, tested and completed before moving on to localization. There is nothing worse than having a SME tell you that you need to change two paragraphs, and then having to go into 6 different courses and change it for 6 different languages. To save time and money, it’s best to have a final, approved version which doesn’t require any further text edits before sending it off for translation.

Hire professional translators

It’s not enough to say “Lisa speaks Spanish, so she can translate the content.” Speaking a language does not equate to being a good writer. There is a lot involved including sentence structure, grammar, syntax, spelling, etc. It’s also definitely not enough to use Google translator to save costs. While the quality of the translations has greatly improved over the last few years, it is still often riddled with errors and sentences that really don’t make sense. DON’T use Google Translate or any online translation tools to localize your content. It will be obvious and distracting to your learners if the content isn’t properly translated, and your eLearning course will lose credibility.

Key considerations for e-learning localization:

  • Icons, symbols
  • Photos, graphics
  • Text content
  • Fonts
  • Dates, times, measurements
  • Input and output
  • Color schemes
  • Terminology, acronyms, and abbreviations
  • Browser window titles
  • Software application screenshots
  • User interface
  • Table of contents

Did I miss any practices that you think are important? If you have any tips or comments about localizing eLearning, please share. Also, please take a moment to subscribe!


4 thoughts on “Best Practices for E-Learning Localization

  1. Jeremy says:

    This was very eye opening. As the world becomes more transparent because of the internet and many companies being based in other countries, it is very important for Instructional Designers to be aware of sensitive subject aand how we handel translatiing information. As begin to translate learning resources you have to pay close attention to what things mean in other cultures.

  2. Stephen Sockett says:

    Hi Nicole,

    Thanks for this information. It is accurate, highlights many misconceptions and provides good insight into what needs to be sonsidered. We use some of the “tips” you have referenced to help improve Our ELearning technology. In many ways our technology is a great tool kit for localization because it is open. You can modify the script and the images and re-sequencing is very easily. In fact I can show you some of the work we have done in Arabic, French and Chinese.

    If you go to and user name is “guest” with the password “zelearn” you’ll see some examples. Click on content and there you will see cGMP English and cGMP French, Engineer Process training has the languages inside on the course itself (user to select English, French or Arabic) and Health and Safety in Hospitals has Chinese and English. Spanish GMP will be ready this week.

    Let me know what you think.


  3. ian says:

    I think one of the items most frequently neglected, aside from not actively managing all the assets used to produce the eLearning material (that means ALL your source folks, including the sample source data files you used to populate the database that the screen shot was taken from ….) is that often times the content will require change – perhaps compliance regulations are different, perhaps the tools, processes and roles discussed are different. Ultimately, like any good manufacturing design process flexibility should be designed in with a global context.

    In some cases where the content is exactly the same word for word, page for page, screen for screen it might be ok just to ‘translate’ the assets – to some that’s ‘localization’ … oh and don’t forget the player …. if you’re content is delivered in a 3rd Party LMS then make sure the navigation is localized in the language you’re looking for …. that might include grade book and report management too!

    In other cases, where you’re looking for wide spread adoption and you are not in control of the content consumption requirements you might need to consider the cultural aspects of learning … are your consumers/learners happy to use and encouraged by self directed discovery learning models or do they prefer a prescriptive formal structure.

    … then there’s localizing audio, perhaps that’s for another post.

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