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Values and approaches to learning that arise out of a persons cultural background have been researched and there are characteristics that influence the way a person learns that have been confirmed by several researchers as applying to various nations. Hofstede's (1980) work and the dimensions he developed to define the ends of various continuums is most often referred to.
Three papers are provided for you to gain a background understanding of Hofstede's dimensions and to raise your awareness of the possible influences cultural aspects can have on the way students learn. Learning designers have a real challenge because as Peter Chinn (in Bentley, Tinney and Chia 2005) observes 'Culture is so much an integral part of our life that it is often difficult to realize that there are different, but equally valid, ways of thinking perceiving and behaving'. Our cultural approaches are so embedded in our psyche that we are mostly unaware of them. This raises the question: Can we incorporate suitable adjustments for these dimensions into learning activities? Suggestions are provided by these authors to show that we can.
Strother, J.B. (2003). Cross-Cultural Issues for Asian e-Learners: An Analysis Based on Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions. http://my.fit.edu/~strother/downloads/Issues_for_Asian_ELearners.pdf
The author outlines implications for elearning.
Bentley, J. P. H., Tinney, M. V. and Chia, B. H. (2005). Intercultural Internet-Based Learning: Know Your Audience and What It Values, Educational Technology, Research and Development, 53, 2.
The authors include recommendations for different groups of learners.
Liu, S., Liu, X., Lee, S. h. & Magjuka, R. (2008). Studying Online in a Globalized World: Cross-Cultural and General Issues from International Students' Perspectives. In C. Bonk et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2008 (pp. 2913-2918). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
This reading includes a useful checklist at the end.
Cultural aspects in web interface design
There are many papers in the literature which deal with the need to develop web interfaces that make allowances for cultural differences. Features such as reaction to colour, icons, graphics, animations and sound are mentioned. Navigational approaches would seem to be an important consideration too. However, despite the rhetoric there is little concrete evidence of exactly what these differences might be or advice on how our design can be adapted to cater for them, the discussion being mostly in very general terms. The following article, typical of the field, suggests there needs to be further research in this area. Your challenge here is to see if more recent literature has filled the gap.
Brown, I. (2002). Internationalising the interface for e-learning. In M. Driscoll & T. Reeves (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2002 (pp. 1234-1237). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
The impact of learning styles on accessibility
Those involved in education will have been exposed to the concept of students' preferred learning styles and we will not go into it in depth here. The wide variety of learning styles of students presents challenges regardless of your instructional approach. Learning styles have been described as a combined reaction to the environment, emotions, sociological factors and physiological factors (Dunn & Griggs 2000). Learning styles leads to learning preferences that include auditory, visual, tactile and kinaesthetic.
Another theoretical framework for learning styles focuses on how people experience learning according to their dominant style as converger, diverger, assimilator or accommodator (Claxton & Ralston 1978; Svinicki & Dixon 1987). The theory of multiple intelligences-linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic (Gardner 1983)-describes how people perceive the world and contributes to diversity.
The literature in the area of learning styles is extensive and beyond the scope of this unit, however, a brief look at the link to elearning is of interest. The following comments come from Parkes (2010).
In the e-learning context, the importance of students being able to identify their preferred learning styles was identified by Birch (2002). Birch also highlighted the importance of students taking this knowledge and using it to select the most effective strategies to suit their particular learning style. However, evidence as to whether any particular learning styles are more suited to e-learning environments than others remains inconclusive (Valkenburg, Schouten, & Peter, 2005). For example, Pallof and Pratt (1999) believed students with the learning style categorised as 'introverts' would be more suited to e-learning environments than those classified as 'extroverts'. Pallof and Pratt argued this was because e-learning environments could provide introverts with a greater opportunity to process information internally, as this was their preferred style. Pallof and Pratt believed that students with an 'extrovert' learning style would struggle in e-learning environments. This conclusion was supported by Dewar and Whittington (2000) who found that introverts had an advantage over extroverts in e-learning environments. However, Kraut, Kiesler, Bonka, Cummings, Helgeson and Crawford (2002) showed that students with the extrovert learning style gained a greater positive benefit from use of the Internet than did introverts. Aragon, Johnson and Shalik (2000) also examined the relationship between learning style and student success and found no significant relationships. The authors concluded that students could be equally effective in e-learning environments regardless of their preferred learning style.
One explanation for the disparity in results is that learning style instruments are generally built according to a particular learning style model. For example, the highly popular instrument created by Kolb (1999) assesses an individual's cognitive approach to processing information (Mokhtar, Majid, & Foo, 2008) but does not take into account any of the social aspects of learning (Crutsinger et al., 2005). This could have important implications especially if Kolb's instrument was applied to e-learning contexts for which the social aspect of learning is such an important dimension.
While uncertainty remains as to the influence of learning styles on e-learning, Dewer and Whittington (2000) believed the power of learning styles comes from giving students the appropriate tools and knowledge that allows them to explore and identify their favoured approaches to learning (Parkes, unpublished thesis 2010).
As a revision, or If you are not already familiar with these theories, do a web search on 'learning styles', 'learning preferences', ' multiple intelligences' and 'learning style inventories'. Look for the well-known Kolb's learning inventory and the Myer-Briggs type indicator. You may be able to access one of the inventories and apply it to yourself. Here is one that is free: http://www.edutopia.org/multiple-intelligences-learning-styles-quiz
You can pursue multiple intelligences further by referring to:
Gardner., H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The theory of Multiple Intelligences, 10th edn. NY.
Kolb., D. (1981). Learning Styles and Disciplinary Differences.
Briggs Myers, (1998).The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator
Write a short summary of each term and post it on your group's weekly forum including your sources of information.
Reflect on and analyse your own learning needs and preferred style of learning by asking yourself the following questions. What features do you prefer to find in any learning materials? What parts of a learning environment do you find yourself avoiding? Do you think these preferences influence your own teaching style?
Share your answer to this last question with your group and discuss the implications for accessible learning.
We have looked at the sources and types of diversity and seen that there is an almost infinite range of possibilities that need to be considered in terms of accessibility. Coombs (2000) has a nice way of conceptualising this and it leads us into considering how to remove the barriers to learning:
If we think of a disability in a functional context instead of in the abstract, it becomes easier to overcome. In this context, a disability is not so much an attribute of a person as it is a mismatch between a particular person and a particular environment. When we think of a disability as a personal attribute, it is the person who must be changed. If we put it in a functional context, we have the choice of altering either the person or some feature in the environment. Our choices have been dramatically increased (quoted in Seale 2006, p. 11).
Accessibility: removing the barriers
So the trend in the elearning field and higher education now is to discourage thinking about disability as the problem to be addressed and to encourage thinking about the barriers to education as the problem that needs to be addressed. Barriers then come to be issues such as flexibility of the interface (presentation, control methods, modes of access, navigation, learner supports) and the availability of alternative but equivalent content and activities (IMS Global Learning Consortium 2004a). Phipps and Kelly (2006, p. 70) support this notion when they say 'accessibility has generally become synonymous with web accessibility or the accessibility of e-learning'.
elearning allows students and their teachers to engage in computer mediated interaction and to access their learning resources (print, graphical, audio visual) electronically online or via CD ROM. Students can use the Internet for locating further resources and to conduct their own research. Assistive technologies will be an integral part of the process for some students (we will investigate assistive technology in more detail in week 5). Some of you may already have developed your own definition of elearning in other units of this course. For those of you who haven't, think about what you consider elearning to be.
elearning can be a stimulating experience and is flexible because it can be adapted to meet the needs of varying learning styles, communication formats and learning at a distance. Electronic text can be read by people who are blind, vision impaired, dyslexic, and by people who cannot hold a book or turn a page. However, elearning is not a panacea-it can have both a negative and a positive impact on learning due to the technology itself (Seale 2006).
For example, screen reader software can give a blind person a spoken version of what is in a computer screen display. However, it can only speak text that is displayed on the screen. The increasing use of graphics leaves the screen reader speechless! Providing both text and pictures makes the information accessible and a barrier is removed. Accessibility can therefore be defined as removing barriers.
Brophy, P., and Craven, J. (2007). Web Accessibility, Library Trends, vol. 55, no. 4, Spring 2007
Phipps, L., and Kelly, B. (2006). Holistic approaches to e-learning accessibility, ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology, vol 14, no.1, March 2006, pp.69-78.
You can also access the W3 Web content Accessibility guidelines and checklists to give you more insight into how to remove barriers resulting from technology use and poor design.
Removing the barriers to elearning leads naturally into defining the characteristics of accessible elearning which is the subject of our next topic. The two overlap so the next topic also includes some very practical strategies you can apply when preparing material for elearning.