The Challenge of Creating Global Courses

There is a huge need in Europe for more trained Christian workers.  Therefore one of eDOT’s principal goals is the creation of a collection of computer-based ministry training courses that our European partners can use to train young men and women who are unable to attend a traditional Bible institute, college or seminary.  Often they are already busy in ministry and must also work full-time at a secular job to provide for their family.

From the beginning we have had to wrestle with an important question: How do we create courses that will be useful and effective in other cultures and language groups? We still don’t have all the answers, but here is a summary of three things we do with all of our courses.

Search for obvious cross-cultural issues

The original version of each of our courses is created in English, by North Americans.  This means that each course contains idiomatic expressions that are understandable to us, but will not make much sense to people in other languages and cultures.  (Consider the following examples: “We are in deep weeds.” “Allow me to unpack this Bible passage for you.” “That will cost you an arm and a leg.”)  Therefore, one step in preparing the global version of each of our courses is to ask a review committee to find these idiomatic expressions and either remove them or convert them into a more understandable form.

In addition, our courses usually contain certain anecdotal stories or illustrations that will not make sense in other parts of the world. For example, one of our courses illustrated the challenges of church leadership by mentioning a church board that had to decide whether to use church funds to pave more of the parking lot or instead to install air conditioning. In many parts of the world these issues would be considered silly or extravagant.  Our review committee identifies stories like this one and either removes them or rewrites them.

Finally, the original version of each of our courses contains pictures and diagrams that may not make sense in another part of the world, or may even be considered inappropriate.  For example, one of our courses contained a photo of some Christians arguing about clothing styles.  Upon review we realized that in some parts of the world none of the clothing style options would be considered to be appropriate!  Therefore our review committee recommended the use of a different photo.

Reliance on high quality translators

Before each of our courses is used outside of North America it must be translated into the language of the host country.  We work closely with our European partners to find experienced translators who will not only produce an accurate translation, but will also identify and modify idiomatic expressions and anecdotal stories that our review team may have missed.  We encourage the translators to contact us when questions arise so that the final product accurately communicates the original intent, but in the new language.

Flexible organizational structure

If you have tried out CD-based or web-based online learning you have probably discovered that some are organized in a very rigid manner.  Everyone is expected to begin at the same starting point and to progress through the course content along the same path.  Furthermore, there is no easy way to address special needs by modifying or supplementing the course content.  Not long after we began creating courses the eDOT team received feedback from a number of sources that rigidly organized courses created in North America would not be very appealing to training schools and denominational groups in Europe and other parts of the world.  Our partners wanted to be able to tailor our courses so that they addressed special needs and issues that are important in their country.

Our solution was to create a main course page that serves as a “course organizer.”  For each lesson there is a list of learning resources and assignments.  Our partners are free to remove, modify, replace, or supplement these resources and assignments to more fully meet the needs of their students.  And the students have some freedom to progress through the various elements of a lesson in the order that works best for them.

The procedures described above are pretty basic, and we realize that we still have more to learn.  However we are convinced that these procedures increase the likelihood that our partners in Europe will be able to use our ministry training courses to effectively train more and more Christian workers to spread the gospel, disciple new believers, and establish a multiplying network of churches that glorify God.

Creating these courses is a huge task.  For that reason we are thankful that we have been able to partner with several other North American schools and mission organizations to create them.  But that is probably a topic for another blog article…