The present chapter assesses the key questions of communication barriers in distance learning virtual communities. To examine their cultural aspects, a Web-survey for distance learners has been conducted. The principal areas of interest were a cultural dichotomy of West/East; discrepancies in educational cultures (teacher-centered vs. learner-centered); mismatches in communication and educational traditions in different cultures; conflict paradigm and methods of conflict resolution. The findings of the survey are summarized and interpreted and some implications for further research are discussed.
“Culture is always a collective phenomenon ... it is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another...it is learned, not inherited” (Hofstede, 1991, p. 5). G. Hofstede’s classical definitions and his comparative cultural analyses remain the benchmark for discussion of national cultures. According to Hofstede, culturally-diverse groups have less similarity than monocultural groups due to different orientations to nature, environment, time, relationships, activities, and so forth. The adaptation of the cross-cultural teams to virtual learning is often accompanied by psychological discomfort, stress, frustration, the feeling of being isolated (Munro, 2002; Suler, 2002). Due to discrepancies in conflict management traditions in different cultures, their inter- and intra-communication sometimes result in intercultural conflicts.
In this chapter, intercultural conflict is defined as the perceived or actual incompatibility of values, norms, processes, or goals between a minimum of two cultural parties over content, identity, relational, and procedural issues. (Ting-Toomey, 1999).
To better understand the nature of communication pitfalls in learning communities, several dimensions for cultural comparison have been offered: