Cultural Lessons Learned During the Development and Implementation of an International Distance Learning Program

Cultural Lessons Learned During the Development and Implementation of an International Distance Learning Program

Lisa Oliver (San José State University, USA) and Ravisha Mathur (San José State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3076-3.ch003
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Abstract

With the increase of global online and distance education programs, it is inevitable that cultural challenges will emerge. These cultural conflicts can be overcome by investigating obstacles with the technical aspects of building a cross-cultural program and by designing and delivering culturally appropriate and sensitive courses. This chapter explores how cultural variables and perspectives might influence student learning in cross-national distance education program collaborations. Specific cultural lessons learned during the development, formation, and administration of an international distance learning Master's program in Instructional Technology are presented. Strategies that were utilized to sustain the program are also discussed. These challenges, lessons, and strategies are framed by current theoretical models that highlight the need for stronger cultural awareness and understanding in this type of collaboration.
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Introduction

International collaborations between universities are increasing due to globalization and technological accessibility. Consequently, countries with no prior possibility of utilizing technology on a daily basis or within a classroom setting are now able to make use of these tools. In addition, there are more opportunities for cross-cultural interactions between individuals who have very different culturally motivated ideologies and perspectives. These cross-cultural interactions may lead to increased exposure to varied cultural beliefs that can illuminate cultural nuances that were not previously known.

The recent growth and proliferation of global distance education programs has led to a greater understanding of how cultural variables influence student and program success in this learning environment (Gaudelli, 2006; Sadykova & Dautermann, 2009). Currently, one of the biggest challenges is the disparity between students’ home culture and the institution that is offering the program; this disparity not only leads to confusion and frustration for all involved, but also disappointment when students are unable to meet course expectations and cannot fully participate in the learning process (Sadykova, 2014; Sadykova & Dautermann, 2009). This critical challenge highlights the need for institutions to consider a number of factors when offering these types of programs including cultural course design, meeting multicultural students’ learning needs, and instructors and instructional designers who have developed the skills to provide culturally adaptive instruction (Alalshaikh, 2015).

Previous research on distance education in the global context has shown that cultural diversity is a hallmark of these programs (Alalshaikh, 2015). However, cultural conflicts are somewhat inevitable as course design and delivery is a social process in which instructors and instructional designers cannot completely separate their own cultural experiences and training from designing and providing curriculum (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010). These conflicts and challenges can be overcome by investigating potential barriers with the technical aspects of building a cross-cultural program and by designing and delivering culturally appropriate and sensitive courses.

Although cultural diversity is the critical factor upon which distance education is developed, existing research has shown that, in fact, challenges associated with cultural differences have a significant negative impact on students’ success and achievement within these kinds of programs (Shattuck, 2005; Liu, Liu, Lee, & Magjuka, 2010). For example, students in other cultures may feel marginalized by the “dominant” culture providing the course content. In addition, due to different communication patterns and the variety of English utilized (Matsuda & Friedrich, 2011), miscommunication is likely to occur in distance education programs. This chapter highlights the cultural issues and challenges that were encountered during communications that contributed to the formation and administration of an international distance learning program between a public, urban university in the United States and a private university in Central America. Key challenges that emerged during the development and execution of the program and how some of these challenges were overcome during the partnership will also be discussed.

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