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How to adapt/localize training material

When you lack the resources, expertise, and/or time to develop your own learning materials, you may decide to adapt existing materials from a source beyond your institution or country.

It is likely that this adaptation will occur at one of four levels:

  • Level 1. Re-branding: adding institutional name, logo, and contact information
  • Level 2. Localizing: adding local examples
  • Level 3. Contextualizing: changing the content and syntax to match characteristics of the local audience and principles espoused by the organization
  • Level 4. Adapting materials for e-learning

Issues that must be considered

e-Learning is usually characterized by the separation of the instructor and the student for a considerable amount of time during the learning process and interactions that may take place at different times and places. Thus, it is necessary to select material that is appropriate for these learning conditions. Below are some factors that should be taken into consideration when adapting materials for use in e-learning.

Educational Intent

Does the material you want to adapt have clear objectives that require students to acquire new knowledge, to apply new skills, and/or to change their attitudes?

Can the course content be broken into 'bite-sized' study pieces?

Do remember that only a limited amount of material can be placed on a computer screen at one time.

Does the material have exercises that students can use to practise as they learn?

Are there measures for determining the extent to which students have achieved the course outcomes?

Is the evaluation scheme congruent with the objectives?

If you can answer "yes" to all of these questions, it is easier to adapt the material to an e-learning format.

Audience Identification and Learning Styles

Students learn in different ways and, thus, require different instructional strategies. Learners are frequently identified as visual or auditory, but some may have a preference for working alone or working with others. Know your audience; then, ensure that the material can be adapted to suit their learning styles or provide a mixture of instructional methods and learning opportunities. In addition to learning styles, consider the attitudes, interests, and prior experience of your potential audience. Those students who are self-disciplined, highly motivated, and good time managers are most likely to complete an online course successfully.


A crucial factor during the learning process is interactivity. Thus, you must provide opportunities for students to engage themselves with the course material and communicate with the instructor and other students. Locate games and simulations that will involve your students in the learning process.


It is obvious that learning materials may have to be translated into local languages. What is not so obvious is that successful translation depends on the recognition of cultural context and the translator's knowledge of the subject area relative to the community in which the information or skill will be applied. Words such as house and freedom may have different connotations depending on the reader's experience.

Social, Political, and Religious Sensibilities

Material obtained from elsewhere must be carefully checked to ensure it does not offend local sensibilities. However, note that one of the roles of education is to introduce new ideas and different viewpoints. Material should be checked to ensure it contains no bias relative to age, culture or ethnicity, race, gender or sexual preference.


Do not include material in your e-learning course until you verify the ownership of the material and obtain permission to use it. If you alter the material, you have a moral obligation to inform the owners. Note that securing rights may take considerable time.

Delivery Mechanism

Will you only deliver the course via the Internet or will you also use print, compact discs, radio, television, audioconferencing, videoconferencing, on-site lab sessions, or a combination of the above?
The answers to this important question depends primarily on the resources you have available to adapt, deliver, and support the course and the students' access to them as well as the Internet bandwidth that is available. When you develop and deliver courses via the Internet, you may want to consider using open-source software which generally is free or can be obtained for minimal cost. Frequently, an annual user fee is not required.
Note! It can take time and expertise to convert available material in one technical format to an alternate format.


Whether one person or a group adapts the course material, the expertise of a number of professionals will be required. Initially, you may need to use expertise outside of your organization, but over time, you should develop the expertise in-house.

Expertise required to adapt materials

The expertise needed to adapt materials may be held by one individual, but it is likely that a small team will be involved.

Project coordinator oversees the conversion process and manages the project budget.

Course developer transforms the course material into a form suitable for effective e-learning.

Instructional designer assists the course developer with transforming the material and identifies delivery methods based on learning and instructional needs. Also, verifies that the course adheres to a specified standard.

Course reviewer checks the course material for its academic content and method of presentation.

Clerical personnel assist with finding and formatting materials.

Intellectual property officer ensures that permission has been obtained to use any copyrighted material.

Editor recommends changes to the course to ensure that it is grammatically correct, accurate, comprehensible, organized, consistent in style, and free of biases.

Media personnel develop media components, such as video clips, games, and simulations, and convert material from one technical format to another.

Course evaluator reviews courses and the student support mechanisms.

Characteristics of quality elearning materials

For any course, you must ensure that:

  • The objectives are clearly defined
  • The content is current and relevant
  • The activities promote interaction and require thought, not just memory work
  • The resources are up-to-date and accessible
  • The assessments are feasible, relevant, and congruent with the objectives.

However, it is particularly important that quality e-learning materials:

  • Engage and motivate the learner
  • Demand that learners interact with materials, with their peers and their community
  • Encourage critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving
  • Provide online opportunities for practice and knowledge transfer
  • Offer timely, constructive, relevant, and frequent feedback
  • Provide links to resources beyond the content and the learners' communities

A quality e-learning course is not an electronic page turner! Take full advantage of the multi-media capabilities and linking features of the Internet.

For additional information about the development of quality e-learning materials, refer to: Wright, C. R. (2003, October). Critieria for evaluating the quality of online courses.

Alberta Distance Education and Training Association. (or contact for a copy)

If you have the will, it is possible to create quality learning materials when resources are limited. Consider adapting material from the variety of free and open educational resources that are available from well-established institutions and agencies.

Resources for those seeking to adapt educational materials

Davis, H. and Smith, A. (1996). Changing apples into pears: Transforming existing materials. Open Learning, volume 11, pp. 10-20.

Evaluating Online Courses (provides sources for evaluating online courses).

Freeman, R. (2005). Creating Learning Materials for Open and Distance Learning: A Handbook for Authors and Instructional Designers. Vancouver, BC: The Commonwealth of Learning.

McBrien, K. (2005, May). Developing localization friendly e-learning. Learning Circuits.

Wright, C. R. (2006). Selecting an open-source online course development and delivery platform: An academic perspective. Paper presented at the Fourth Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning, Kingston, Jamaica.

A video worth watching

This video graphically shows the relationship between Internet implementation and economic development:

Sources of educational material that could be adapted

Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative - Source of online material and courses designed for postsecondary learners,

Connexions - A collection of 4,000 free scholarly material and software,

Discovery School - Provides teachers with a variety of tools that will help them create learning materials for face-to-face or online learning,

EduResources Portal - Gateway to higher educational instructional resources,

Free and Open-source Software for e-Learning,

Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) OpenCourseWare Project - Free, searchable access to MIT's course material,

Multimedia Educational Resource (MERLOT) - Collection of free and open educational resources primarily for higher education,

OpenCourseware Consortium - Site for university open courseware,

OpenLearn LabSpace - The British Open University website that enables you to download and remix course content,

Sites for Teachers - Links to hundreds of educational websites (with a North American perspective) in reading, mathematics, science, and social studies.

UNESCO portal to free and open software:


Clare Catherine Sempebwa

P. O. Box 25373
Tel: 256-772-487555

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