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