In this age of globalization and multinational organizations, companies want to deliver online training that will reach worldwide audiences. The result is e-learning content that needs to be tailored specifically for each cultural group.

If you’ve ever had to design or develop a multilingual e-learning course, you know firsthand that developing content for multiple languages can be a heavy lift. This is especially true if you haven’t put in place early the proper planning measures to make the process smooth and effective.

This article will identify what you need to know up front (long before any development begins!) to effectively localize or tailor e-learning content for a variety of cultural audiences.

Understand the concept of localization

When it comes to getting a course out in multiple languages, it’s a common misconception that all you need to do is translate the written content. There’s often confusion about the differences between translation and localization.

  • Translation is the process of translating text and words from one language to another without making any adaptations.
  • Localization is the process of translating and adapting content for a specific culture. It often involves making changes not only to the text but also to imagery, tone, colors, currencies, and more, to account for cultural and regional differences.

In many situations, simply translating the text in a course is not enough; you need to adapt the content in order for it to make sense for learners across cultural barriers. For example, let’s say you’re developing an e-learning course for a multinational delivery service. The course is for delivery staff based in the US and India on how to safely deliver packages on time.  

In addition to translating the text from English to Hindi, you need to adapt the content itself to take into account local driving and workplace safety laws.

You should also consider updating the imagery to more accurately reflect the learner's home environment. For example, the American version of the course might show background images of busy streets in New York City. For the Indian version of the course, those could be swapped out with images of the streets of Mumbai. The two cities look very different and each have distinct architectural styles, roadways, and vehicles. Additionally, an image of a delivery vehicle in the American course might show a cube van or bicycle; the Indian version might be a tuk-tuk or a rickshaw. These changes in imagery make the course more meaningful and relevant to the learner.

Plan for localization up front

The key to a successful localized project is to plan every step of the localization process from the get-go. You want to keep your multicultural audience in mind from the beginning to avoid quality issues, save time, and ensure a smooth localization process. Things to consider when you’re in the project planning phase include:

  • Identify the target markets and languages you want to localize for
    You need to determine early on which languages you’ll be localizing for. Keep in mind that even though your learners may speak the same language, you may need to create multiple courses to take into account regional differences.

    For example, a course developed in Spanish might not work for both Mexico and Spain. Why not? In addition to the many linguistic differences between Mexican and Iberic Spanish, there are regional differences that need to be considered, for example: different products, procedures, laws, technical standards, and currencies.
  • Plan to build in one language first
    It’s a good idea to plan to design, develop, and deliver the course in one language BEFORE localizing the course into other languages. If you develop all of your courses in tandem, you’ll find yourself doing a lot of re-work.

    To illustrate: imagine a Subject Matter Expert asks you to change two paragraphs in your course. It’s a lot easier (and more cost effective!) to do it in one language than in five different languages. Once the first course is complete, you can save time by localizing your course into the other languages at the same time.
  • Plan extra time for development and testing
    It might seem obvious, but you’re going to need more development time when you’re building a course in multiple languages. In addition to developing the course in the first language, you’ll need time to adapt it to every other language, which will include development, testing, and review steps. It’s a good idea to plan for the localization process by adding in extra development and testing time to your project plans and timelines.

Find the right localization resources

Having the right resources in place can make the translation and localization process run more efficiently and smoothly. Resources include the tools and the people you’ll bring on board for your localization process.

Authoring tool

When you’re going to be translating an e-learning course into multiple languages, it’s a good idea to investigate ahead of time what translation features and multilingual options are available within the authoring tool you’re using.

For example, Articulate Storyline 360 offers the ability to export text for translation and then re-import it, saving lots of development time. This is good to know up front, so you can plan your project and allocate time and resources accordingly.


The quality and experience of your translation team will have a huge impact on the caliber of the final localized output. When it comes to working with translators, it helps to find translation professionals who have experience with your industry or subject matter. When the translation team has even a basic understanding of the content they are working with, it makes a huge difference in helping them ensure it all makes sense and works.

In terms of hiring translators, your options are generally a professional agency or a single contractor or freelancer. They each come with their own set of pros and cons.

Professional Agency



  • They will handle all the project management for all the languages.
  • They often offer voice-over professionals for all languages.
  • They sometimes offer to do the translation directly in your tool of choice.
    • The quality is often not as high.

      Because at a large agency the translators do not know you personally and are not that invested in your project.

      Also, you work with a variety of translators who may each have a slightly different style, which could be reflected in the final output.




  • The quality tends to be higher, as usually freelancers need to provide a good service in order to maintain a good reputation, stay in business, and ensure repeated business and future contracts.
  • It’s often cheaper to work directly with a translator because they don’t have high overhead costs to cover.
  • Takes more time to find, hire, and manage freelancers than it does to work with an agency.
  • They may not offer project management, voice-over services, and more.


Voice-Over or Narration Professionals

If your project includes narration, you’re going to need resources to narrate in a variety of languages. If you’re working with a localization agency, as noted above, they may offer narration or voice-over services. If not, you’ll need to recruit voice actors for each language. Keep in mind when you’re on the hunt for a voice actor that differences in local dialects and accents can make a huge difference to your learners. For example, Australian and New Zealand accents may sound similar to an outsider, but to the locals they are completely different!

Finding the right voice for your project can take time, so account for this in your project plans, as well as the time required to record in multiple languages.   

QA Testers

Testing and quality assurance review is an important part of creating an effective and high-quality multilingual course. During the project planning phase, identify resources for the testing and quality assurance phase of your course development. What should you look for in your testers? They should be proficient in both the original course language as well as the language they are testing, so they can compare both versions and ensure the message is consistent. The tester also needs to be a good writer, with strong spelling, punctuation, and grammar skills, so they can spot mistakes in the written content.

These are just some of the things to consider when planning a localized e-learning project. Remember that up-front planning will eliminate a lot of headaches and help ensure a smoother process and better end result. What tips of your own do you have about planning for localized projects? Let me know in the comments!

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Nicole Legault
Nicole Legault
Karen Wicks
Nicole Legault