Around the world, workforces are becoming extremely diverse, not just in terms of race and gender but also by ethnicity and language. Your e-learning must be designed to suit these audiences.
Management, HR and training experts may think similarly or have a similar vocabulary, but this may be quite different from that of the majority of the workforce. That’s why, as a general rule, it’s important to learn more about your learners before you begin to create e-learning content.
Medium of instruction
In what language should your e-learning content be developed? For some multilingual audiences, it may be hard to select a single language. In many cases, management assumes by default that the medium of instruction should be English. However, is that the language in which the majority of your learners think and process information?
By delivering e-learning content in a language that your employees do not understand or struggle with, you add an unnecessary strain on them, making an already challenging task (adult learning is never easy) even more difficult.
Before choosing your language of instruction, take a survey of your learners and understand which languages they can understand, and to what extent. If multiple languages are equally popular, consider rolling out the course in more than one language. You could create the course content in the language that you are most comfortable with (assuming it is one of the final target languages) and then, once the core content is approved, translate to other required languages.
For example, if the first language of 70% of your learners is Spanish, it’s important to offer a Spanish alternative. If the majority of your learners does not really understand the course because of the language it’s delivered in, that’s just a waste of effort on all sides!
Jargon and idioms
In some cases, technical jargon is inevitable. However, if you are addressing a learner who is not entirely comfortable with the language of communication, jargon and obscure idioms are likely to negatively impact understanding and learning. Keep language as simple and straightforward as possible.
Online learners cannot ask a friend for clarification if they are not familiar with a term or phrase. To the extent possible, avoid overly technical terms and phrases, or explain them when they are used.
Similarly, idioms can be very different in different languages. Have you heard these?
Northern Britain: All mouth and no trousers
Spain: Mucho ruido y pocas nueces (A lot of noise and no walnuts)
Russia: кормить завтраками (Feed with promises)
These phrases all mean the same thing in different languages: “all talk and no action”! While context cues may help learners understand the meaning of such an idiomatic expression, it’s an unnecessary extra step.
Videos and graphics
As a general rule, we do recommend doing away with PDFs and text-heavy content media in favor of more interactive media like videos and animations. That’s because of the reducing attention spans of younger learners. Another reason is that as text is reduced, learners proficient in other languages become equally comfortable with the content. Minimize the amount of text on the screen or delivered via voiceover.
Prioritize media such as 2D or 3D graphics, infographics, animations and videos that don’t need a voiceover for explanation. The communication should be clear from the visual itself, or with minimal voiceover support.
In cases where such support is essential, offer multiple language options for the voiceover – or, if that’s not practical, at least subtitles in multiple languages. Subtitles are an issue when learners are consuming content via mobile devices, where the size of the text needs to be accessible and speed slow enough for readability.
For all voiceovers, in all languages, ensure that you use neutral or local accents to increase comprehensibility.
Game-based and story-based learning
Game-based learning is not typically language-heavy. Games are immersive and engaging, making it more likely that learners of all kinds will engage with the game and the learning that it delivers. However, text-based games such as quizzes may not be relevant here.
Storytelling is of course heavily text-based, but by supporting stories (or cases, or simulations) with strong graphics, learners can easily understand the content of the story and engage with the narrative. This is a great way to train learners on how to interact with customers, for example, without making them read long stories or cases written in a particular language.
Remember: not all learners think or process language the same way you do. Create content that suits your audience as it really exists, not as you imagine it to be. Think how multilingual audiences would engage with every word of your e-learning content, before writing it.
Our team of experts at Hornbill FX are experienced with instructional design and content creation for online learners of all kinds, and we’d love to support you in developing e-learning content for your multilingual learners. Do reach out to us to get started on your e-learning journey today.
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