Internationalization of e-learning impacts several areas of e-learning design.

I18N – Internationalization of e-learning is a many-faceted area of development, focused on making applications available and user-friendly to a worldwide audience.

E-learning teams, used to designing for one language, need to unlearn many design standards and adopt new ones. In the process, several trade-offs are required that call for objective and, sometimes, tough decisions. This process is difficult and takes longer than traditional design.

However, the investment made in the design phase of internalization ( I18N ) pays itself back several times over in the #localization phase, especially when several languages are involved.
We have classified the areas impacted by internationalization ( I18N ) into four categories: content, screen, media and technical design.


I18N or Internationalization – content design

While designing content outline and structure, instructional designers and Subject Matter Experts need to identify region-specific localizable content from generic material.

While this may be self-evident in some types of content areas (e.g. money laundering laws), there may be need for additional upfront research in other content areas (e.g. examples and case studies of money laundering). Both substantive and cultural issues are relevant here.

Having identified localizable content, it is important to create technical architectures that allow easy modification of these contents without having to disturb the generic content.These technical architectures can be macro-level, separating learning objects or modules, or micro-level, separating and tagging content at page level.

Screen Design

Screen design is primarily impacted by linguistic issues. Characters, words and sentence structures vary across languages.

In some Asian languages (e.g. Mandarin, Japanese), a concept can be expressed using characters that take far less screen space than English words, while in some others (e.g. Bahasa), more space is needed to express the same concept.

This aspect affects several elements of screen design, such as:

• Placeholders for titles, dialogs etc
• Text placement (or wrapping) around graphics
• Design of UI elements, such as buttons etc.

When internationalizing, the impact on these elements needs to be kept in mind and several standards defined/adapted for the amount of text, layout and use of placeholders on screens.

Media design

While internationalizing e-learning, media design is primarily impacted by cultural issues and to a smaller extent by linguistic issues. In the process of internationalization ( I18N ), some of the basic decisions regarding media design need to be reviewed (e.g. use of photographs).

The overall graphic style needs to be evaluated for its acceptance and familiarity in target countries. The use of icons and symbols also needs to be reviewed – they may not mean the same in another culture.

The same holds true for props and items of daily use – a mail box may look very different across Asia and a piggy bank is not an accepted symbol of savings across cultures.

In addition, it is important to define standards for embedded text in graphics.

Although the use of text within graphics is a powerful tool to explain difficult concepts,

localizing this text within the constraints of the graphic image is perhaps the most tedious part of any localization activity.

Technical design

The aim of internationalization ( I18N ) is to facilitate localization. Technical design is key to the fulfilment of this promise. The process of localization can be simplified and de-skilled to a large extent by using a well thought through technical design.

When designing the technical solution, it is important to visualize how English-speaking teams will develop localized content and troubleshoot problems. This often results in redesign of some of the basic features of the development and testing environments.

Examples of such redesign include the use of XML as the authoring environment for text and development of better testing methods for randomized question pools.


Localization carried out in isolation and as an afterthought has inherent problems of high cost and poor quality. As long as localization is considered an add-on, localized versions will continue to be poor cousins to original English versions.

The alternative is to begin the e-learning design process with internationalization ( I18N ). Internationalization ( I18N ) impacts several basic aspects of course design, and forces designers to modify and adapt their initial design to meet the new needs of localization.

This initial and upfront investment provides several benefits. Localization can be done faster, and at a lower cost. The pressure on the local quality control team is also reduced because internationalization makes the localization process inherently less error-prone.

The benefits are especially rewarding when localization is needed in several languages.

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