Cultural Dimensions of E-learning

Culture determines not only how one thinks, how one behaves and reacts to what happens around him/her but also what one grasps as essential to learn. Cultural effects on learners’ experience can be profound, particularly in the era when the size and scope of cross-cultural online learning is growing. Vatrapi (2008) holds that cultural perception affects social behavior, cognitive processes, the way s/he deals with e-learning technologies and the knowledge received from e-learning system. Therefore, with the rising popularity of global e-learning courses, it is indispensable to design and instruct effective e-learning programs that culturally accommodate the learners’ preferences and learning outcomes (Rogers and Wang 2009). This blog post will outline the cultural aspects of designing online learning environment by explaining the following models: Three dimensional ADDIE model (Thomas et al 2002); Multiple cultures model (MCM) (Henderson2007), and Cultural adaptation process (CAP) model (Edmundson2007). But firstly, I will outline three key and basic areas of online course design that can be leveraged to support cultural diversity: Access, content and pedagogy.

Students have to be able to access the experience and the knowledge. As this relates connectivity and technology, students have to get online, access the course website, download the types of files that course requires. Access also involves scheduling. The times when classes begin, assignment deadlines, requirements for responses, awareness of policies, all these can affect student participation in an online course. Language also appears to be an access issue. Courses mean to offer a variety of tools for communication, synchronous or asynchronous, written or oral. Access also involves interface design issues. That is students from different academic traditions need clear structure to navigate the content (Al-Hunaiyyan et al., 2009).

Content needs to be relevant, as it is directly related to student motivation. Instructor uses examples, case studies from a variety of different cultural contexts. It is difficult for instructors to know exactly what is appropriate for students. Thus, course researches should be developed together with students contributing to the core class resources.

Pedagogy support diverse learners and should create opportunities for meaningful interaction and build community. Humanizing the online environment, creating student introductory pages, offering various communication tools provide opportunities for students to collaborate a meaningful content. Besides students come from different academic cultures and using a variety of pedagogies increases the likelihood that content will be familiar to some extent which can make students feel more comfortable (McFayden et al. 2004).


Culture-based e-learning models

A number of models have been proposed that could help designers of learning to consider the effects of culture on learners’ experiences. Thomas et al. (2002) enriched iterative and multi-directional approach to the traditional ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate) instructional design model with the third cultural’ dimension. Three variables- intention, interaction and introspection- form the basis of this ‘cultural’ dimension. Intentional parameter of learning reveals that there is intention to examine the project methodically before advancing it and this pushes the designer to consider and make their cultural bias explicit. The interaction element incorporates collaboration of instructional designer, subject matter expert and the user during the whole model stages to assist to cultivate culturally sensitive product. Lastly, introspection means that the e-learning designer goes through internalizing his/her thoughts toward the cultures represented in the instruction (Thomas et al. 2002).

Henderson (2007, p.131) suggests a‘multiple cultures model’ (MCM) which enables educators to deliver ‘culturally-specific knowledge’ to students while conforming to the elements from the emerging academic, industry and global cultures. By concentrating on the integration of epistemological and cognitive aspects of global, national and minority cultures, Henderson (2007, p. 136) argues that students are able to be aware of how and why their own and the dominant epistemologies were constructed, what kind of effects they have on identity and how a variety of epistemologies illustrate (reveal) themselves in social, technical, medical theories.

Cultural adaptation process (CAP) model was presented by Edmundson (2007) as preliminary guideline connecting online course developers with different cultural profiles. This model assists to classify course complexity and culturally accommodate materials for specific student groups through the used content, delivery methods and communicational tools. ‘For utilizing CAP model, instruction designer would begin from left to right to identify the level of complexity, and from top to bottom for level of specificity. Five potential stages for cultural specification exist: Step 1: Evaluate course content; Step 2: Identify instructional methodology; Step 3: Classify media; Step 4: Identify learners and Step 5: Determine course adaptation plan; and each step contains four levels of complexity ‘(Edmundson 2007, p.267).


Above mentioned models cover only a small part of issues regarding the planning, designing and developing of culture based online education. The future research should continue for analyzing all cultural aspects of e-learning and producing effective cross-cultural learning initiatives.



Al-Hunaiyyan, A., & Al-Sharhan, S. (2009). The design of multimedia blended elearning systems: Cultural considerations. 3rd International Conference on Signals, Circuits and Systems, p. 1-5.

Edmundson, A. (2007). The cultural adaptation process (CAP) Model: Designing e-learning for another culture. In A. Edmundson (Ed.), Globalized e-learning cultural challenges, pp. 267–290. Hershey, PA: Idea Group, Inc.

Henderson, L. (2007). Theorizing a multiple cultures instructional design model for e-learning and e-teaching. In A.Edmundson (Ed.), Globalized e-learning cultural challenges,pp. 130–153. Hershey, PA: Idea Group, Inc.

McFayden L. P., Roche, J., Doff, S., Reeder, K., & Chase, M. (2004). Communicating across cultures in cyberspace: A bibliographical review of intercultural communication online. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers Distributor.

Rogers, P. C., & Wang, M. J. (2009). Cross-cultural issues in online learning. In P. Rogers, & G. Berg (Eds), Encyclopedia of Distance Learning (2nd ed), p. 527-536. PA: IGI publishing.

Thomas, M., Mitchell, M., & Joseph, R. (2002). The third dimension of ADDIE: A cultural embrace. TechTrends, Vol. 46:2, p. 40-45.

Vatrapi, R.V. (2008). Cultural considerations in computer supported collaborative learning. Research and practice in technology enhanced learning, Vol. 3:2, p.159-201.


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