Cultural Considerations for Educational Technology and Design

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This posting is in reference to my research on the role of culture and its implications in the development of educational technology and instructional design. Included is a spreadsheet which provides an annotated bibliography of 5 research articles on this topic. I will be writing a synthesis on this topic to be posted at a future time.


An update to this post now includes a synthesis on:

Cultural Considerations for Educational Technology and Design

Almost two decades ago, researchers were already exploring the intersection between culture and technology-enhanced learning in response to globalization. Westernized countries had quickly begun to develop and market educational content and products to other countries (Rogers, Graham, & Mayes, 2007). While globalization resulted in increased cross-cultural awareness for multicultural education, (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010), research efforts on the impact of culture on instructional design remained limited (Rogers, Graham, & Mayes, 2007). The lack of historical literature surrounding culture and online education does not diminish its importance, rather it speaks to the challenges of incorporating culture into instructional design and technology.

A review of five research articles published between 1999-2010 discussed studies and design approaches that demonstrated cultural awareness, implemented culture-based frameworks, and made cultural accommodations to instructional design and technology. This paper provides a synthesis of considerations from these research articles that reveal the importance of culture in the development of educational technology and instructional design.

Insight about deeply rooted cultural values, beliefs and attitudes can reveal themselves through a learner’s behavior. If an instructional designer understands the nature of cultural differences, then accommodations to learning environments can be considered. Parrish and Linder-VanBerschot (2010), who addressed challenges in multicultural instruction, suggested that learning behaviors strongly related to cultural values are non-negotiable. If a non-negotiable cultural value, such as individualism or collectivism is challenged, it may impede learning outcomes (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010). For example, activities designed to elicit student opinions are more prevalent in Western educational systems that value individual performance. For a student from an Eastern-based culture, such as China, which is generally more collectivistic and group-oriented, an activity that requires a learner to argue or express their opinion may prove challenging. However, the concern with cultural generalizations that are dualistic, such as individualism vs collectivism, is they can result in stereotyping and often overlook the individual learning behaviors of students within a specific culture that can vary from person to person (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010; Gunawardena, Wilson, & Nolla, 2003).

Another way to view cultural differences is from a holistic perspective and not just isolated behaviors. Exploratory research conducted by Rogers, Graham, and Mayes (2007) raised questions on how cultural differences could be understood. The researchers suggested that developing awareness of cultural differences should involve exploration of “key differences in the current expectations and abilities of learners from different cultures…and then bridging those gaps through such things as additional support needed to be successful with the instructional experience at hand” (Rogers et al., 2007, p. 211). Although Roger et al.’s study sheds insight on the complexity around culture differences and learning behaviors, findings were based on personal interviews with a small sample of practitioners. Further research would need to inform what type of instructional support could help to bridge culturally oriented learning gaps in an online learning setting. Additionally, the challenge remains, as raised by Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot (2010) in determining which learning behaviors are deeply cultural and which are not so they can be addressed for learning and instructional purposes.

Culturally adaptive models and frameworks serve as an important tool in instructional design, and if employed suitably can be sensitive to cultural differences and provide equitable learning. In developing an online unit for Indigenous Australian learners, a multiple cultures model adopted by McLoughlin (1999) integrated both Indigenous and mainstream Australian cultural values into the subject matter content. By recognizing the importance of cultural differences and Indigenous Australian values, this framework ensured for equitable learning. In another approach, Gunawardena, Wilson, and Nolla (2003) proposed a framework for a web-based course that made the distinction between non-negotiable culturally based factors and negotiable choices within the framework used to design the course. Non-negotiables included “language, beliefs, preferred methodologies and learning styles, knowledge and skill base, and attitudes about learning” (Gunawardena, Wilson, & Nolla, 2003, p. 768). Students were able to navigate around non-negotiable factors through options and still benefit from the content while following course expectations (Gunawardena et al., 2003). In this way, the design honored learner’s backgrounds and provided a means for negotiating their own learning. Although Gunawardena et al.’s proposed framework was based on literature review and their own research, it did not elaborate on implementation for an actual online setting. Whereas in McLoughlin’s research, her findings validated successful use of the multiple cultures framework through online design and technology. McLoughlin’s findings provide evidence that educational technology, if adapted to the cultural needs of the group, can provide an effective learning environment.

Culturally adaptive educational technology, if used appropriately, can enhance learning to support communication. Chen, Mashhadi, Ang, and Harkrider (1999) examined cultural issues in technology-enhanced learning systems for three Singaporean educational contexts. The authors demonstrated that if education technology were appropriately implemented, and with attention to cultural factors, it could support a learning environment conducive to the needs of learners (Chen, Mashhadi, Ang, & Harkrider, 1999). Although Chen et al. attributed the success of these learning systems in part to culturally mediated social interaction, they advised that “the quality and nature of learning are largely determined by the individual’s experience of cultures and technologies” (Chen et al., 1999, p. 228). Given that the instructional designer lived and worked in Singapore, the designer’s cultural familiarity most likely contributed to successful learning outcomes. Although ideal, an instructional designer who is fully proficient in the target language and culture, for which they are designing an online course or program, may not be possible. McLoughlin’s (1999) use of the Web and technology in her course for Indigenous Australian learners supports Chen et al.’s claim that culturally adaptive technology can enhance learning online. She used technology to build an online community of practice “through the application of electronic messaging, communication for forums and asynchronous communication tools” (McLoughlin, 1999, p. 238). As part of the technology, a virtual meeting space was designed to embody Indigenous values that honor community and provide a place where students felt valued and safe in discussing concerns about the unit (McLoughlin, 1999). The thoughtful consideration of cultural variations between Indigenous values and mainstream Australian culture demonstrated in this research study that culture should be a key part of the design process, and not just an add-on. However, the absence of student feedback from surveys or interviews to determine if the course was truly culturally responsive to student learning needs does raise questions about overall design effectiveness.

This synthesis reviewed research on culture and its role in online education. What it has revealed is the inseparable nature of culture and learning. If cultural considerations are appropriately integrated as a core component of educational technology and instructional design, it can be argued that online learning environments are better equipped to meet the needs of learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. Rogers, Graham, and Mayes (2007) posed a series of questions at the end of their research paper for future exploration on culture and online instructional design. One of those questions concerned the influence of Western culture on the educational and training efforts of instructional designers (Rogers, Graham, & Mayes, 2007). Perhaps studying the impact of Western culturally influenced educational technology and instructional design on non-Western cultures may reveal implications that support a “re-envisioning of the role of instructional designers in order to be more culturally responsive and helpful” (Rogers, Graham, & Mayes, 2007, p. 215).


Chen, A-Y., Mashhadi, A., Ang, D., & Harkrider, N. (1999). Cultural issues in the design of technology-enhanced learning systems. British Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 217–230.

Gunawardena, C. N., Wilson, P. L., & Nolla, A. C. (2003). Culture and online education. In M. G. Moore & W. G. Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of distance education (pp. 753-775). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

McLoughlin, C. (1999). Culturally responsive technology use: Developing an on-line community of learners. British Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 231–243.

Parrish P., & Linder-VanBerschot, J. A. (2010). Cultural dimensions of learning: Addressing the challenges of multicultural instruction. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 11(2), 1492-3831.

Rogers, P.C., Graham, C.R., & Mayes, C.T. (2007). Cultural competence and instructional design: Exploration research into the delivery of online instruction cross-culturally. Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(2), 197-217

The Importance of Media in Learning: Evolving Debate, Kozma vs Clark

Authored By: Dino Hatzigeorgiou, Sue Hawkins, Tanya Heck, Melem Sharpe, Physaun Wilkes

The great media debate between Richard Clark and Robert Kozma was sparked by an article written in 1983 by Clark on “Reconsidering Research on Learning from Media.” The debate continued into the 1990’s with Clark (1994) re-iterating his position that methodology is responsible for learning, not the medium. While Kozma (1994) reframed earlier arguments to emphasize that both the method and medium influence learning. Today the argument still evokes valuable discussion, and the 5 articles presented in this blog provide another perspective in contrast to Clark (1994).

5 Positive effects technology has on learning

A blog post titled 5 Positive Effects Technology Has on Teaching & Learning written by the team at Kurzweil Education (2015) claims that the use of technology has a positive effect on teaching and learning.  Clark (1994) argues that learning gains should be attributed to the method of instruction and not the delivery medium (p. 5). However, Kurzweil (2015) argues that students are more stimulated and motivated to learn when they can interact with hands on learning tools such as educational technology (para. 4).  Kurzweil also notes that technology allows to students to self pace their learning, and when used in a classroom it allows teachers extra time with students that are struggling (para. 5) Kurzweil provides evidence to support their claims using a survey conducted by PBS (2013). “Seven in 10 teachers (69%) surveyed by PBS Learning Media said educational technology allows them to “do much more than ever before” for their students. Including technology in the classroom benefits teachers and students in many ways” (para. 8).  In contrast to Clarks argument, Kurzweil highlights the effectiveness of educational technology on a students ability to learn.

This is how we used technology to improve our school’s reading scores.

Jesse Simpson, a Principal at an elementary school in the United States, implemented StudySync, a literature instruction platform to improve reading related skills in her district. Contrary to Clark’s position that media does not influence learning, this digital ELA program provided a framework for the teachers to design their curriculum.  In the first year, the district state assessment results saw an increase of up to 20 per cent in some schools. As one teacher stated “the students didn’t simply have a good test day – they actually learned the necessary skills” (Simpson, J., 2017, para. 13). Moreover, we can look to Kozma (1994) who described his vision of future technological environments such as StudySync to increase learning:  

How this new technology will be used is not yet clear.  But enabled by its capabilities, liberated by new models of design, and informed by media theory and research, designers may find new ways to engage students in interactions within these technological environments, interactions that may tip the balance in favor of learning (p. 23).

7 ways technology is impacting modern education

Lynch (2017) in his article “7 ways technology is impacting modern education” highlights seven major impacts of using technological tools in classroom learning and instructional practice. He noted that technology enables interaction among students with learning materials, and provides students with the opportunity to use the internet to conduct research which are associated to real life problems. As a result, students are able to differentiate their relations to the curriculum. He acknowledged that technology allows students to create various online groups thus forming virtual communities where they are able to interact and obtain feedback.  Given Lynch’s (2017) perspectives it contradicts Clarke’s argument that media are “mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p.1). It is evident that Clarke’s argument may have had merit in that era but technology and educational practices have evolved and have seen changes in which students currently interact and learn. Students are now able to use simulation technology to “see planetary movements, how a tornado develops”’ (Lynch 2017, para 5) as opposed to “static models used in previous decades” (para 5). This galvanize that technology are more than mere vehicles but rather impacts the learning process for students and educators.

How technology benefits learning

Timothy (2016) argues that how learners process and understand information is a result of technology which has changed how we learn. He suggests that learning is no longer a passive activity; it has become learner-centered as a result of educational technology (Timothy, 2016). Specifically, Timothy notes that increased internet connectivity and the use of mobile devices have amplified how learning is dispersed, enabling self-paced learning. Through augmented and virtual reality, and gamification technologies learner motivation and performance have increased dramatically (Timothy, 2016). Most notably, training has become more effective because of immersive learning through wearable and simulation technologies (Timothy, 2016). If we look at this from Clark’s (1994) perspective which is that learning occurs because of teaching methods, and media serves as a means of delivery. The delivery medium has no significant effect on learning according to Clark, so virtual and augmented realities, and gamification would not have any significant impact on learning according to this perspective. Clark would argue that these technologies may be efficient delivery structures for learning, however, learning would happen irregardless because it is the methodology that matters. This may have been the case in the 1980’s, when such technology had not yet been developed. However, Timothy’s (2016) example of augmented reality or wearable technology in his article is key to deepening learning, especially in simulation training. Augmented and virtual reality technology therefore are  are unique in this case, and afford ‘learning by doing’.

Education and role of media in education system

In his article, Clark (1994)  agrees with Salomon by stating that media are not directly responsible for motivating learning, and references new (at the time) cognitive theories that give no merit to media other than instruction (Clark, 1994, under motivation with media). This argument is extremely outdated because it does not reflect the current reality which places (digital) learning technology, such as social software (also known as Web 2.0), in the center of the modern teaching paradigm. Furthermore, Clark was unaware of modern learning theories such as (social) constructivism, an evolution of cognitivism, which relies in the use of Web 2.0 technologies. According to Preeti (2014), because of the proliferation of media (especially social and mass media) in day-to-day students’ lives, it is natural – if not compulsory – to use media in education not only in the classroom but also throughout the teaching/learning process. In fact, in stark contrast with Clark, Preeti sees social media as a solution to learner disengagement. Preeti (2004) argues that through higher levels of engagement achieved using media, students’ attention is shifted towards learning activities, especially when these activities pertain to real-world objects, enabling learners connect what they learn at school with the application of this knowledge in the outside world. Therefore, without discounting the importance of appropriate teaching and use of media, media in education provide the affordance of richer experiences since media are powerful tools for illustrating scenarios and real-life examples.

Much has changed since Clark wrote his paper in 1994.  Given the advances in technology and the role it plays in all aspects of life, the emphasis has shifted to focus on the benefits of technology in educational design.  Changes in learning theory have prompted a response to recognize Kozma’s (1994) finding that both the medium and the methodology contribute to learning.


Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development VO, 42(2), 21.

Kozma, R. B. (1994).Will media influence learning: Reframing the debate. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7-19.

Kurzweil. (2015). 5 Positive effects technology has on teaching & learning. Kurzweil Education. Retrieved from

Lynch, M. (2017). 7 Ways technology is impacting modern education. Retrieved from

PBS. (2013, September 30). PBS Survey finds teachers are embracing digital resources to propel student learning [survey]. Retrieved from

Preeti, B. (2014). Education and role of media in education system. International Journal of Scientific Engineering and Research (IJSER). Retrieved from

Simpson, J. (2017, October 6).This is how we used technology to improve our school’s reading scores. [website]. eSchool News. Retrieved from

Timothy, A. (2016, July 30). How technology benefits learning. eLearning Industry [website]. Retrieved from


Dr. Catherine Cronin: An Open Voice

“Openness is not a one-time decision and it is not universally experienced; it is always complex, personal, contextual, and continually negotiated” (Cronin, 2017, p. 18).

Dr. Catherine Cronin is an open educator, open researcher on open educational practices (OEP), digital identity and digital well-being, and an educational developer (Cronin, n.d.). She began her career as a Systems Engineer in the 1980’s, eventually changing paths to pursue a master’s degree in Women’s Studies completing her dissertation in gender and technology (Cronin, 2018; Hayman, 2017). She describes her decision to switch careers, in part because of her experience working in the masculine culture of engineering (Cronin, 2018; Hayman, 2017). This decision not only exposed her to women’s rights, philosophical approaches to gender, and sociology of education, but it also gave her a voice to better understand and articulate her own experiences as a female engineer (Cronin, 2018). Since changing her career, Catherine has achieved over 25 years of teaching, conducting research and working in higher education, and most recently completed her PhD in Open Education Practices (OEP) in Higher Education (Cronin, n.d.).

I chose to write about Catherine because she is a “ground-breaker in open educational practices and research” (Merkley, 2018), and an advocate for open education. Her work and research are significant to the field of educational technology exceeding what is listed here: peer-reviewed publications; multiple keynote presentations; advisory board member for the Open Education Working Group; open education collaborative projects in Ireland and globally; frequent blog postings and tweets (Cronin, n.d.). She serves as a role model for women in education, technology and the sciences, and provides inspiration for career changers like me. However, what stands out the most is Catherine’s commitment to OEP as an effort to reduce inequalities and enhance opportunities for everyone (Hayman, 2017).

Twitter: @catherinecronin


Cronin, C. (2017). Open education, open questions. EDUCAUSE Review, 23 October. Retrieved from

Cronin, C. (n.d.). About – professional bio [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Cronin, C. (2018, August 19). Reflecting before #ALTC: personal  political [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Hayman, J. (2017, July 25). 101 openstories [Video file]. Retrieved from

Merkley, K. (2018, April 13). Uncommon women 2018. Retrieved from