Archive for April, 2013

A few days back I was browsing my favourite website on my sister’s new smartphone. Even though I made sure I was accessing the mobile version of the site, I still wasn’t able to see content I could see when browsing the same site on my PC.

The impact on the user experience that just a small impediment like this makes is huge. Rather than try and force a square peg fit in a round hole, when something isn’t compatible, we prefer to leave.

So are you providing the right shaped space for your learners? Mashable has already declared 2013 as a responsive web design year, and rightly so: responsive web design for e-learning courses is something of a specialty at Saffron Interactive!

The basic idea is that all the hard work of designers and developers doesn’t get messed up when viewed on devices with different screen resolutions. This is becoming easier and easier because of the advent of CSS3 and its design techniques such as fluid grid layouts, media queries and flexible images. Media queries are used to figure out what resolution of device is being used by the user while flexible images and fluid grids then resize correctly to fit with the screen accordingly.

Ethan Marcotte was the person who coined the term “Responsive Web Design” in 2010 on his “A book apart” website. Since then many of the best projects have been developed using his Responsive Web Design techniques. Some of my favourite sites that use this approach include:

So how do we apply these ideas when we’re developing e-learning? Before you start designing courses or portals according to responsive web design (RWD) principles, there are a few technical things you need to consider:

  1. Most mobile devices are not compatible with CSS media queries.
  2. As RWD works on image resizing, the full image is downloaded on a user’s device and then resized to fit the screen, potentially taking time and impacting on performance.
  3. Though RWD aims to resize content for any device, there still will be few devices out there that won’t give 100% optimized user experience due to unusual resolutions.
  4. Not all browsers (i.e. Internet Explorer) support CSS3.

For those interested in exploring the topic in more depth, check out the following resources:

These days, whizz-bang platforms in the world of e-learning are aplenty. The problem is that great content isn’t. In fact, the typical experience of e-learning content remains so negative that to many outsiders the word itself seems somehow doom-laden and ill-fated. (Forget this preconception at your peril, by the way.)

Now imagine an empty Facebook – no friends, no comments and no memes – and you are imagining the actual appeal to the learner of that shiny platform which looked so good at the Learning Technologies show. (Or you are imagining the final years of Friendster, MSN Spaces or Bebo … !)

Yet the continuing assumption that platforms somehow replace the content in them is what drives vendors to invest millions in developing clever platforms (and put them on sale at prices which are not so clever) whilst ignoring the most important person: the learner. She is not interested in features, but in benefits.

And real benefits are derived from content. Think about Wikipedia. That simple combination of useful learning and easy collaboration is the explosive formula you should be aiming for. Now think about search engines before Google arrived. That overburdened, ‘desperate to be useful’ mess is what you are not aiming for.

My point is that all features really do is facilitate the smooth delivery and discussion of content. Some features are indeed revolutionary, but mimicking those won’t redeem a poorly planned content strategy. And be economical – a feature which is cool but not used may as well not be there at all.

The uncomfortable truth which LMS vendors don’t like to mention is that spending your pennies wisely on an affordable open source option can do this facilitating just as well as spending millions on a proprietary one. Let the content sing – and make sure it can sing. That’s your why. The platform is just the how.

It’s all about conversation

Understanding the ‘why’ before you get to the ‘how’ is another version of the features / benefits problem. A case in point is mobile learning.

The putative ‘how’ of mobile is becoming easy. Most authoring tools now publish in html5. But will html5 redeem courses which are non-interactive, overlong and poorly designed? No. Will dull content become interesting just because it is on a smartphone? Maybe, but not for long. The delivery mechanism is a feature – not a benefit.

The real ‘why’ behind m-learning is the pressing need to create learning which competes with the far higher standards of availability, accessibility and user experience we have come to expect from e-content. This applies to any device.

Above all, you are aiming for a user experience which holds a conversation and rewards the learner for her participation. The first prerequisite to holding this conversation is to speak in her language. The second prerequisite is to have something worth saying.

Technology can help deliver on these prerequisites, but it won’t redefine them out of existence. And if you fail to accomplish either, you may as well have stuck a post-it note to her desk.

Continuing from last week’s blog post, one of our most experienced language specialists at Saffron has put together another five top tips to help avoid your e-learning projects getting lost in translation!

1. Is the translator qualified?

There are too many people out there who speak several languages and advertise themselves as translators. If you’re looking for quality, check whether they’re registered with a professional body. Do they have a university education in the foreign language(s) they claim to be proficient in? At least if they’re certified or qualified in some respect you can be ensured that they have high standards and a strong sense of ethos.

2. Does the translator have relevant experience?

Choose someone whose previous experience is relevant to what you need. For instance, if you need to translate a course about security at work on a boat construction site, a translator with an understanding of engineering terminology would be most suitable. If, however, your next project is about turning a particularly difficult piece of legislation into an interactive course available to all employees within an organisation, you should look for someone experienced in translating creative writing.

3. Localise (not localize!) the language

Make sure your translator understands the local culture and language of the learner. An English course for a British audience may use different terminology and idioms than a course designed for an Australian or American audience. And the same applies for other languages such as French and Portuguese!

4. Respect the course’s original style

As well as defining the learner, also take care in briefing the translator about the tone and style of the course. It’s a waste of time writing high quality English content for a course that’ll be translated into six languages if that isn’t also reflected in the alternative languages.

5. Get straight to the point

Have you ever noticed how the English section of an instruction manual comprises less space than other languages? So do bear in mind that most translations from English will usually contain at least 30% (or even 50%) more words, and that those words may be longer than in the original text. (Consider that speed limit in English can be translated as Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung in German!)

As parts 1 and 2 of my tips should impress on readers, it takes much more than a dictionary to be a good translator and translators are not made overnight. Stay tuned for part 3 of my translation tips!

Let us know what’s on your mind


1 in 4 people suffer significant mental distress at some point in their lives.


Help us understand how mental resilience is affecting your organisation.


By filling out this survey you’ll also be entered into prize draw to win a Kindle Paperwhite e-reader.


1. Do mental health issues such as stress and depression cause problems in your organisation?
 Yes No

2. Does your organisation measure the effects of these issues on its performance?
 Yes No

3. If yes, how do problems with mental resilience most affect your organisation?

4. What kind of occupational support does your organisation currently offer to boost mental resilience?

5. If you’re planning to improve mental resilience in 2013, what will be the main focus?

6. Any further comments?

First Name *

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1. Do mental health issues such as stress and depression cause problems in your organisation?
 Yes No

2. Does your organisation measure the effects of these issues on its performance?
 Yes No

3. If yes, how do problems with mental resilience most affect your organisation?

4. What kind of occupational support does your organisation currently offer to boost mental resilience?

5. If you’re planning to improve mental resilience in 2013, what will be the main focus?

6. Any further comments?

First Name *

Last Name *

Job Title *

Company *

Email address *

Telephone *

* Mandatory fields

Prejudice against those experiencing mental health problems is rife. In one study, 58 per cent of people felt unfairly treated by mental health staff. Yet one in four people will experience significant mental distress at some point in their lives. Now Saffron Interactive is helping Amnesty International Ireland produce a remarkable e-learning course to change things for the better.

In order to drive new ways of thinking, the course will be made available for free to mental health professionals across the Republic of Ireland. Amnesty International Ireland has been campaigning for some years for those experiencing mental health problems to enjoy the same human rights as others, and this project is a key part of the programme of work.

The Irish Government committed in 2011 to bring legislation into line with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

‘We received several excellent bids for this project but Saffron’s energy, creativity and passion shone through’ says Pippa Woolnough, who is leading the project for Amnesty International.

‘We knew that any course that felt like “just another piece of e-learning” would fail to achieve our objectives. Saffron responded to that challenge with a fresh, exciting design and a thoughtful approach which demonstrated understanding of this difficult area.’

‘This kind of project is why I get up on these unseasonably cold mornings,’ says Toby Harris, creative lead at Saffron, ‘Saffron has an opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives – just as we did in our course on mental resilience for Transport for London.’

Information about Amnesty International’s campaign, is available from

Information about e-learning around mental health and case studies are available from Saffron Interactive.

About Amnesty International Ireland

The human rights organisation Amnesty International Ireland has more than 15,000 members and supporters. It is part of a global movement of more than 3.2 million people working in more than 150 countries around the world.

We campaign for the right to mental health in Ireland, where we focus on using the human rights framework to demand action from the Government. We campaign for a social approach in response to mental health that is focused on people’s rights, and are demanding action from the government to achieve real improvement in the lives of people who experience mental health difficulties.



About Saffron Interactive

Saffron Interactive is one of the most celebrated digital learning and communication brands in Europe. We work with FTSE 250 organisations to change behaviour and improve performance.

We are not interested in adding to the mountain of dull, mind-numbing ‘e-telling’ that often masquerades as e-learning. We want your people to be inspired, to be energised, to make the right choices and to take action. This is why we are in business.

As well as consistently producing award-winning bespoke e-learning, over the past two years we’ve pioneered mobile learning, open source learning platforms, serious games and blended learning programmes.

We believe that learning is natural, that a love of learning is normal and that learning should be fun. We value questions above answers, creativity above fact regurgitation, individuality above uniformity, and excellence above standardised performance.

Straight talking. Clear thinking. Contact us today to start changing your organisation.

Contact Saffron Interactive

One of our most experienced language specialists at Saffron has put together her five top tips to help avoid your e-learning projects getting lost in translation!

1. Hire a native speaker

It’s a common mistake to assume that just because someone speaks a foreign language that they can translate everything into anything. Remember that only native speakers of a language will know the local customs and habits that subtly affect and impact on a language. You can’t substitute for the real McCoy!

2. Check that the translator matches your requirements

It can be quite difficult to know your translator’s efficacy when you don’t speak the language(s) they’ll be translating into. Since the storyboard you’ll be sending will probably be written in English, even if they’re a native English speaker, it’s crucial that you test their English reading and writing ability. If your translator doesn’t understanding the storyboard, they’ll be sure to mess up their translations!

3. Train the translator

Every company has an induction programme for their new employees, so why not use that material to train the translator? This will give them a great insight on your company’s standards and will help them assess and adopt your company’s writing style.

4. Translate from A to B, not B to C

Avoid at all costs translating from another translation. If you have a version of the course in the original language, send that version to the translator. The best example to highlight that issue is the Bible. It’s been translated from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to the current versions. Studies of the bible in the 1990s and 2000s indicate that quite a bit has been lost in translation!

5. Distrust automated translation

So many aspects of your working life have been digitalised that it’s easy to forget what technology is supposed to be for! And this is perhaps most true in the translation industry. Ask your translator what system they use, and how. Make sure they use technology only to assist their translations, rather than using it to fully automate the entire process. If they use automated translation, you might as well use Google Translate; the result will be the same and you will save yourself money in the process! Remember that language is fundamentally about people and emotions, not machines.

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