Simply put, e-learning refers to Internet-based learning. E-learning can take place by reading a piece of information, such as a Web page, or completing a package of instruction, both of which are designed to impact learning and performance (Rosenberg, 2000). E-learning has rapidly gained momentum, especially in large international companies, due to the globalization of business. Businesses in the current global economy need to provide fast-changing information to large numbers of employees and customers at dispersed locations more efficiently than ever (Rosenberg, 2000). Although traditional classroom instruction is still the primary mode for delivering training (Sugrue, 2003), e-learning enables the delivery of content to global locations in a timely manner (Hartley, 2001). Although e-learning promises learning opportunities for anyone, anytime, and anywhere, reliably producing successful learning outcomes is a challenge. Unfortunately, e-learning programs often suffer high dropout rates (Wang, Foucar-Szocki, Griffin, O’Connor, & Sceiford, 2003). There are various reasons for this, but with e-learning, “the lack of cultural adaptation is a leading reason why e-learning fails to work” (Dunn & Marinetti, n.d.). This article addresses e-learning as a method for both education and training in a global economy, and it questions how e-learning can effectively reach a multicultural audience. It provides a theoretical overview of various cultural dimensions, and addresses the importance of considering multicultural factors and strategies in the design of e-learning.
The media effects debate has continued in the context of distance education (DE), especially regarding the need for comparative studies. Clark (2000) believes that comparing media-supported DE versus classroom instruction is similar to the old studies on computer-based instruction and that the research on the effects of DE has the same problem of media and method confound. Therefore, he calls for conducting multi-level evaluation studies on student perceptions of motivation using both quantitative and qualitative data such as questionnaires and cost-effective issues of DE programs instead of experimental studies.
Smith and Dillon (1999) argue for the continued need of comparative studies. They feel that the way to solve the media and method confounding problem is to describe not only the physical characteristics of delivery media but also how media attributes are used to support student learning in the studies. Such features may include bandwidth of a delivery system, whether the communication is one-way or two-way, synchronous or asynchronous, and interface design. A media attribute associated with bandwidth is realism, which may be used to support the learning of concrete versus abstract symbols. Media attributes associated with one-way/two-way communication are interactivity and feedback, which can facilitate active engagement and adaptation to learners. A media attribute associated with interface is branching, which may support learner control and self-directed navigation. They believe that by describing these media attributes and how they are used to support student learning in DE should help researchers un-entangle the media and method confound, thereby, providing theory-based research evidence to direct effective design of distance education.
Early Synthesis Effort
Regardless of Clark’s argument and repeated call against media and DE comparative research (1983, 1994, 2001), a considerable number of DE comparative studies have been and continue to be conducted, esp., after each wave of an emerging information communication technology. As is the case in most educational research, some studies found positive effects favoring DE, some found no significant or negative effects.
Russell (1999) compiled and annotated 335 studies published from 1928 to 1998 that reported no significant difference between mediated DE and classroom instruction. The collection does not include any studies that report significant findings, either positive or negative. Russell’ rationale for compiling no significant difference studies only was that these studies considerably outnumbered those that reported significant findings. Based on his collection, Russell concluded that the results support Clark’s theory of no media effects on student learning. Although the study was widely cited, the selective vote-counting approach has been most criticized for its lack of rigor and incomplete picture of DE effects (Bernard et al., 2004; Layton, 1999).
Key Terms in this Chapter
E-Learning: Any learning event that is delivered to the learners via the Internet.
Technology-Mediated Interventions: Strategies with the use of technology, designed to improve the condition of the situation or to solve a problem.
Information: A message constructed in the form of any type of multimedia (such as text, audio, video, or animation) designed to organize and present content.
Culture: The cumulative knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, norms, and so forth, of a group of people living in a particular environment.
Asynchronous Learning: Any learning event in which interaction among the participants is delayed over time. Examples include discussion groups, bulletin boards, and self-paced instruction delivered via the Internet or CD-ROM. This allows learners to be geographically separate from other participants and to participate according to their schedule.
Globalization: The process of breaking down barriers among nations.
Instruction: The deliberate arrangement of activities (including presentation, practice, feedback, and assessment) designed to facilitate achieving specific learning outcomes.