Localising elearning for China
1st March 2016
A guide for L&D professionals in multinational organisations who are producing digital learning content for China.
The 1.3 billion people in China represent around 20% of the world’s population. Half of that population, 647 million people, are internet users, and 86% of them use a mobile phone to get online.
Learning resources are important to many Chinese internet users and digital learning is rapidly expanding in the corporate sector.
China’s digital learning landscape
Learning Light estimates that at any given time, there are over 150 million people using elearning in China. The majority of adult learners are using digital learning to improve their practical skills in the English language or computer programming.
Corporate elearning is a growing market too; the same report shows that over 50% of the top 500 Chinese companies have a Learning Management System (LMS) in place. An LMS allows companies to present elearning content to employees and track their progress and results.
Compliance, induction and IT are the main topics but many Chinese companies are also looking to expand to cover subjects such as management and marketing training.
One of the biggest areas of growth in elearning in China is early childhood learning. The future workforce in China is being brought up with online education.
As internet connectivity improves and more leading companies look towards the East for expansion, digital learning has a bright future in China.
Localising content for China
As online education is already well established in many parts of China, if you’re going to be deploying a course in an international company the employees are likely to be familiar with the way elearning works.
The Chinese government has set out standards in five categories that help elearning providers ensure a consistent approach. The Chinese E-learning Technology Standards (CELTS) are a good place to start when creating digital training for the country.
If you have a course which has already been created and you need to roll out in China, you’ll need to have the content translated and localised.
When localising for a completely different culture there are many more considerations beyond just making sure the translation is accurate.
Consider these examples of quirks that could catch you out. There are many more instances where what might be considered a simple translation process could lead to issues without the help of a localisation expert.
Watch out for these quirks
- There are 297 individual languages used in China
- The official language is Modern Standard Mandarin or Putonghua but around a third of the population aren't able to communicate using it
- The number four is considered unlucky because it sounds almost identical to the word for death
- Eight is usually lucky because of its sound when pronounced, but the written character has two lines which point in different directions and can be associated with separation and divorce: 八
- Red is a lucky colour in China; it’s often worn at weddings and is the national colour
- Gifts are often exchanged as a thank you for help, but avoid giving clocks, handkerchiefs or white objects as they are associated with funerals
If your source material is in a language that uses the Latin alphabet, you’re also likely to run into design issues after translating and localising the text.
Whether you use the traditional or simplified Chinese alphabet it’s simply going to take up a different space on the screen to the English equivalent.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has a good article which compares the size of text for the same words in various languages and highlights English as often having the shortest form.
This animation shows how the design of the same page needs to be tweaked for several different languages with different alphabets.
You’ll notice that even answers need to be changed or rearranged for the best learning design in each version.
It also shows the benefit of using universal icons for things like navigation, allowing the learner to locate the critical elements of user interface quickly.
The great firewall of China
Despite investing heavily in internal infrastructure, China has a chequered history with global internet connectivity.
China has prevented citizens accessing many Western websites and services with a system known as the “great firewall”. They took the extra step of banning Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in 2015 to prevent people bypassing the controls.
Popular websites that are banned in China:
- Google.com, and other Google properties including maps.google.com, gmail.com and docs.google.com
You might need to rethink your embedded video content if you’re releasing an elearning course that needs to be completed in China.
As a result of the bans, social media is more fragmented than in the West, there are many Chinese networks filling the void of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and they tend to each specialise in niche areas.
Alternative social media sites
As many websites and online services are banned or severely restricted, Chinese companies have filled the vacuum.
Many of the home-grown alternatives have made significant investments in digital learning platforms themselves:
- RenRen – Facebook-style social network with a big stake in elearning
- Baidu – Search engine equivalent to Google which has been investing in online learning companies since 2012
- Sina Weibo – Twitter-like social media platform
- Tongxue - An innovative elearning market place run by TaoBao, which is owned by online retailer Alibaba. Learners can purchase access to courses in an eBay style auction
- QZone – China’s largest social network by number of members with over 600 million
One notable exception is LinkedIn, which is available in China and is often used for building relationships with Western companies and individuals. There’s a lack of Chinese specific content on the LinkedIn platform so internal networking is usually carried out elsewhere.
Whether you’re planning on rolling out existing material or creating something new, we’d recommend using a provider with experience in translation and localisation.
To find out more about the multinational companies we've worked with to produce absorbing elearning that crosses borders, get in touch.