In our globalized world the growth of the e-learning market is not a surprise. Online courses are utilized both by educational institutions and companies to reach a broader audience and cut costs per hour of training. The modules are translated and localized in accordance with the needs of each organization.
Recently, the focus was placed on the necessity to internationalize both university and company training in order to be able to achieve better results and make the courses more suited for localization.
What is Internationalization?
The broader meaning of internationalization is “the designing of a product in such a way that it will meet the needs of users in many countries or can be easily adapted to do so.” The industry standard abbreviation used for internationalization is “i18n,” since there are 18 letters between the “i” and the “n.”
In terms of e-learning, it can be said that internationalization is the basis of localization. It is developing an online course with the potential to adapt it for global needs without the necessity to change much. If a module is internationalized with its very creation this will save a lot of time, efforts and money for its translation and localization into different languages.
ENLASO Corporation has come out with a Best Practices White Paper on E-learning Globalization to describe the main challenges and benefits of internationalization and localization. It describes the process of company training design and development as consisting of four major elements:
- Globalization – this is the stage of recognizing and designing a product or service in such a way that it can be used in more than one country without any changes to the original. This includes creation of content, web sites, software, tools, and management systems.
- Internationalization – this is the next step in the process of developing the product or service to meet the international demands on the market. Internationalization occurs at the stage of product design and content development when the layout and elements of the course are decided upon. It can be simplified as creating a platform that can support multiple languages. In other words, the software tools should guarantee sufficient space for text contraction or expansion, allow multiple character encoding, etc. In terms of e-learning it means avoiding country-specific examples, using symbols and images that are globally accepted, images of culturally diverse people, etc.
- Localization – this is the stage of adapting the product to the target market and giving it the look that it was created specifically for this locale. In terms of e-learning this includes translation in the target language, substituting graphics, images or icons, referring to local examples, etc. The aim is to offer courses that take into account the cultural differences and make them acceptable for the target audience. For example, a course for Spain and Mexico will be translated in Spanish but will use different references that are typical for each country.
- Translation – in the overall process of creating the final product, translation is simply part of localization that converts the written text from the source language into the target language/s. Despite being listed last, however, it is an important step and should be performed by experienced translators in order to ensure high quality of the final product.
Internationalization of Company Training for Better Localization Results
Ideally, internationalization should be the fundamental basis for the design and development of the company training program, so that it can bring better results. It is much easier to create a product that is intended for the global market and then localize it, instead of trying to broaden up a specifically culture or locale-centered item.
In terms of company training, internationalization can be described as developing the course with a potential to be easily adapted to different target groups in the future if need be. The approach is efficient, even if you are not planning to localize your training in the immediate future.
It is safe to conclude that internationalization enables localization. The process includes four main design components: content, media, screen, and technical aspects.
- Content – the most important requirement is for the content to be structured and well-organized. Use simple sentences, present tense and active voice whenever possible. Try to give global examples or such that are valid for your company, no matter of the specific office location.
- Media – the focus here is on the visual and audio elements that are to be incorporated in the course. You need to pay attention to the graphs and images you use, and keep in mind that some symbols or even colors might be offensive in different cultures. In order to facilitate localization, try to use as many symbols that are internationally recognized as possible. Also, avoid embedding text in the graphs or images so that any future translation can occur easier.
- Screen – design the screen space in such a way that it can accommodate both shorter and longer translated versions of the text. Keep in mind that a translation from English into German or Spanish will occupy about 20-25% more space than the original text. Consider this in your screen design to avoid cluttering the screen.
- Technical aspects – this is one of the most important steps in the design process. You need to make sure that you have the necessary features and support in case localization occurs. This may include enabling the use of Unicode or adding markup for identifying language. Enabling codes that can support local, regional or language-specific items such as date and time formats, forms of addresses or display of personal names, etc. in the initial design of the training course will make its localization for different locales and cultures much easier and cost-efficient.
As we already mentioned, creating an internationalized product does not necessary mean that it should undergo localization afterwards. It simply means preparing a product ready to enter the global market. When it comes to company training, it is also quite beneficial since you may not have offices in different places but still have employees from different cultures. And having a great training program that can be easily localized when need be is an asset that is worth investing in.
Internationalization of Universities and Cross-Border Education Through E-Learning
Internationalization is a concept that is also largely used in the field of education and more specifically in e-learning. In the Methodology for internationalization of e-learning websites, the authors Dalbir Singh and Hazwani Nordin explain what triggered the emergence of the e-learning website internationalization concept. Since the number of internet users from various countries has increased significantly it led to the creation of a group of users that have preferences based on particular cultural background with different needs and expectations towards the e-learning website design. These preferences should be incorporated in the interface design of the e-learning website. The developer has to adapt the interface based on the user’s cultural background. Here the methods of internationalization and localization are applied not only to the content of the e-learning course but also to the website offering it, in order to maximize the satisfaction of the final users.
Universities also have to follow the Trends in Internationalization as explained by Michael Gaebel in his presentation. According to a recent EUA (European University Association) study the top 5 priorities of a university for the past five years included internationalization as the number one priority with 70%. The forecast is that in the next five years it will remain number one with a growing share of 83%.
The universities need to shift to a more global mission because of both external and internal pressure to internationalize. The broader reach has become an indicator or element of quality. With the high demand for more and diverse e-learning courses and programs, the failure to meet it entails loss in credibility and profits. There is a need for diversification of the approaches and activities that the universities offer for better results. While student and staff exchanges are the leading practice, the use of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and other types of online learning were the last but one activity in the list.
With the opportunities that e-learning localization offers, a university degree can become even more accessible to the global audience. The history of e-learning has proven that it is beneficial for educational institutions and learners all over the world. Cross-border education sets the foundations of future cross-border cooperation not only between educational institutions but also for the business. It is interesting to see how two seemingly contradictory terms such as “internationalization” or “globalization” and “localization” can actually become stages in one and the same process to bring better results both for the learning provider and the learner, regardless of the course format.
- Best Practices White Paper on E-learning Globalization, ENLASO Corporation
- The Internationalization of E-Learning Websites: A Methodology by Dalbir Singh, Hazwani Nordin, New Zealand Journal of Computer-Human Interaction
- Trends in Internationalization by Michael Gaebel, European University Association, Conference “Internationalization, Cross-border Education and E-learning” – 04 June, 2015