The business case for e-learning translation

The business case for e-learning translation

The business case for e-learning is well-established, but what about the business case for e-learning translation? How can you assess the ROI of translating and localizing e-learning for foreign-language audiences?

First, let’s look briefly at the factors for analyzing the expected return on e-learning itself. We will then look at how translation and localization affect each of these factors.

Expect these benefits, costs, and risks to creating e-learning.

On the benefit side:

  • Faster employee competency: Employees learn faster at their own pace. Productivity increases more rapidly.
  • Flexibility: Employees can learn anytime and anywhere, even at home.
  • Consistency: Content will be uniform for all participants.
  • Repeatability: Information can be reviewed anytime.
  • Reusability: The same content can be reused and revisions can be limited to relevant modules.
  • Reduction in travel costs: Trainers don’t need to travel the globe.

The major costs include:

  • Technology:  You’ll need access to content development tools and optimally a learning management system (LMS).
  • Content development: You’ll need knowledgeable employees or independent contractors to manage the process, plan and write the curriculum, design the modules, etc.
  • Training: Personnel must be trained in using the LMS system.
  • Help desk support: Help desk personnel must be available to deal with technical questions about the LMS and the course modules.
  • Learning culture development: The company has to develop a culture that encourages and rewards use of the new tools.

The major risks are:

  • Vendor relationships: Relationships with new technology vendors for authoring tools and LMS systems can be unpredictable. However, due diligence and dealing with problems quickly as they arise can limit uncertainty.
  • High initial costs: Upfront costs for technology, staff, and training will be high and there are always some unexpected costs. Plan out the spending and leave a margin for uncertainty in your budget.
  • Content quality: How well a course will work is always somewhat uncertain until it is actually in use, but careful design and testing will minimize this risk.

This ROI analysis is also relevant for training and educational companies that are developing e-learning modules for sale. The costs of development and support may be similar. However, the high upfront costs would amortize across a large number of customers. Also, any new staff hired to work on development and marketing of the modules will support the company’s main mission: the development and sale of educational courses.

The main risk of developing e-learning content for sale is, of course, the market risk. Will the product’s sales justify the costs of development? Answer this as you would with any other service or product. Analyze the demand, research the competition, and focus on your particular market strengths.

So you’ve done this analysis and decided to go ahead with development. Why incur the extra costs of e-learning translation and localization?

What translating e-learning adds to ROI

Too often, considerations of whether to translate e-learning focus almost entirely on the costs involved. The benefits of developing e-learning courses in the first place may be obvious. However, translating and localizing a course may seem unnecessary when “all our employees ‘know’ English” or “we can just sell to English speakers.”

The quality of online instruction directly impacts the quality of students’ learning. “Quality” is compromised when educational materials are not localized. People learn best in their own language. In fact, research has shown that people who are taught something in another language often think they understand more than they actually do. They make sense out of it, but possibly not the sense you want them to make. For them, a well-implemented course means one in their own language, using examples and relatable teaching styles. A failure to localize can negatively impact the expected benefits from the training and decrease the acceptability of the e-learning course in other markets.

The e-learning localization process

We do not want to minimize the costs involved in e-learning translation, especially if it is carried out according to best practices. Here are the steps, each with its own costs in time and money:

  1. Check your authoring platform for compatibility with the translation process. This includes planning for how content can be imported and exported for translation. The overall translation costs will vary based on whether you can easily provide the content to the linguistic team
  2. Design the course, including all its components, with localization in mind. This includes making allowances for text expansion and assessing impact of visual and audio components on the localization and integration costs.
  3. Internationalize all coding. Assess how well the technology handles non-Latin characters and right-to-left text. You may need to invest in new technology.
  4. Adapt the original course to the culture of the locales where it will be used or sold. Consider the expected tone (informal or formal), the cultural appropriateness of graphics or other visual and audio choices, and relevant local laws, usages, or conditions. You may need to change dollars to euros, or make examples more relevant to your audience. Cultural consulting can help identify salient issues.
  5. Translate the content.
  6. Test the course on members of its intended audience, following our guidelines for in-country review.

In conclusion

Minimize the costs of e-learning translation by taking localization into account from the start. These up-front costs may be necessary to realize the most benefits (educated employees or expanded sales) from your investment in e-learning development.

Research indicates that people are more likely to buy products in their own language. How much more likely is this to be true for training materials? Most people are strongest in their native language. Given any choice, it’s very likely that they will choose something in their own language, even if it costs more.

E-learning is booming, and we should expect a rise in demand for it. To fully realize the benefits of bringing e-learning courses to other cultures, expert localization is vital.