A few weeks ago a peer told me a story highlighting the value of localization for training activities and deliverables. In short, materials were designed and sessions were set up by various leaders in his company to train a number of teams around the world, led by instructors virtually or face-to-face and based on e-learning modules. When the time came to capture and measure the overall effectiveness of training sessions it appeared targets were missed in some markets. The most disappointing outcome came from the People's Republic of China where ratings were lowest among key Asian markets. Following a thorough investigation and review the root cause was found in a poor local experience generated by English-only materials and--equally important--in the format of remote sessions.
As a result more sessions had to be organized, precious time was wasted and local momentum was lost. Not to mention the additional costs. In other words a couple of major drivers of global training effectiveness were underestimated or ignored in this case. On the one hand training content had to be localized carefully without assuming trainees were able or ready to use information in a foreign language. On the other hand, in-person training was more impactful and valuable in countries where it was culturally expected or required.
E-learning and training efforts are essential enablers of digital globalization and are no exception to the rules of global content effectiveness. Training content may be even more challenging, actually, as it is as technical as narrative and description. Therefore, consistency, creativity, and control must be combined efficiently to keep it engaging and actionable for most of the world. Global training leaders, content creators and globalization leaders should definitely think about the big picture to fit in the content value chain associated with the design and localization of this type of content.
First of all, global design best practices matter when it comes to developing localization friendly content and eventually creating a great global experience:
- Authoring source content in a topic-oriented way: As some sections and portions of content may be relevant in a number of training materials, creating content modules that can be re-used and re-purposed is a must. It ensures consistency and accuracy across files and over time. It also accelerates the overall localization cycle times. DITA authoring tools help writers a lot but this modular approach can be adopted with most CMS or LMS on the market place.
- Neutralizing content as much as possible: Just like for other types of content, internationalization standards and processes should be kept in mind along the way. Authors have to do their job with international audiences in mind. This implies keeping training content that is difficult or impossible to localize to a minimum such as unnecessary jargon, geo-centric references, or culturally sensitive idioms. They have to pay even more attention to vocabulary and terminology in highly regulated environments where strict rules and guidelines apply.
- Consider simplified English: Not only does this set of writing rules pave the way to cost and time effective localization, it also leads to intuitive meaningfulness and memorability for native English speakers or people speaking English as a second language. Well-targeted simplification pays off.
- Formalizing terminology and stylistic conventions from the outset: It is neither a low-level task nor an afterthought. Clear and consistent terms are the "details" making or breaking customer experience in the short- and long-run. Moreover it drives localization quality since proper terms in source content are easier to understand and convey in other languages. In the same vein, style must be well defined as requirements may vary according to countries, audiences and customers. The right tone of voice enables trainers to engage with people instead of simply reaching out to them.
- Ensuring smooth content transaction and extraction: While some training content is in usual and editable formats like MS Word, MS PowerPoint, or Adobe InDesign, some e-learning content may be available in more specific formats like Lectora or Articulate. In any case source content has to be exported and imported for localization purposes. Ideally this transaction should be in friendly formats such as xml to speed up formatting and quality checks. Otherwise content may have to be localized manually within a tool which makes the process less automated and more difficult to maintain.
Also advice can be shared regarding the localization of training and e-learning content. Performance indicators directly reflect the level of localization readiness that is reached during content design and development activities.
- Creating multilingual terminology and style guides: Like authors working on source content localization teams have to nail down terminology and stylistic rules in multiple languages and for multiple locales from the start. It makes content localization safer, as well as content review and sign-off faster. If it is not considered localization is going to be slower and generate inconsistency and unexpected discussions with reviewers. Tools can help achieve and control this more quickly than with documents. However, it is better to start creating Excel or Word files rather than skipping this step because of a lack of tools.
- Automating localization processes: Provided that content internationalization guidelines are followed, automation should be instilled in localization management. It plays out specifically for portions of content that are structured and used consistently across multiple deliverables. In terms of experience and reliability, recent developments of machine translation engines allow users to take it to a level that makes it efficient for training and e-learning content. On the same note translation memories help re-use and re-purpose content as appropriate. Hence the importance of topic-oriented, controlled, and simplified authoring for source content.
- Taming localization workflows: Localization cycles are built on various roles and responsibilities including stakeholders, linguists, content analysts, terminology specialists, engineers, reviewers, and testers. Localization leaders are facilitators and conductors directing the orchestra and allowing everyone to play a role without deviating from the established trail. The nature of training content makes it more vital than ever. They should consider using a translation management system to have everyone work in a coherent environment and make permission-based features easily accessible (e.g. job requests, quote approvals, online reviews, progress tracking, deliveries)
- Delivering training and e-learning according to local requirements: there is no silver bullet in digital globalization as all local expectations, practices, and voices must be taken into account. Delivering great localized content within an inappropriate framework would reduce its value dramatically. Virtual and self-service training works well in some markets whereas instructor-led and in-person sessions are required in others. Missing targets would be a cultural and business faux pas. Considering the delivery of training content in multiple countries as part of core localization is debatable. Incorporating it in global customer experience is indisputable.
These considerations may be seen as an additional layer of complexity in global training efforts. I would argue that delighting users and customers around the world remains complex, no matter how hard we try to simplify work to be done in that area. Complexity does not go away just by ignoring it. Being aware of it and addressing it in a timely and customer-centric fashion is the first step to turn global difficulties into global challenges and opportunities. This applies to training and learning in the digital age too.
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