Distance Learning Course Design: Considering International Learners and Diversity

Distance Learning Course Design: Considering International Learners and Diversity

Jillian L. Wendt (University of the District of Columbia, USA), Deanna Nisbet (Regent University, USA) and Amanda Rockinson-Szapkiw (University of Memphis, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3120-3.ch001
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Research has extensively provided insight regarding best practices for designing distance learning courses at U.S. institutions of higher education. However, with the increase in course offerings to students abroad and with the documented challenges that international students enrolled in U.S. courses face, it is important to consider whether current frameworks for course design support the needs of international learners. Unfortunately, little research exists that examines this facet of culturally responsive course design and development. This chapter presents what is currently understood regarding international learners enrolled in U.S. courses, an overview of the most widely utilized frameworks for course design in the U.S. context, what preliminary research suggests regarding support for international learners, and practical implications and areas in need of further exploration.
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The understanding of effective distance learning is grounded within constructivism (e.g. student centered) and based upon several validated and well researched distance learning theories and frameworks. A point of consensus among many researchers and practitioners is that interaction is a crucial element for distance learning (Gunawardena & McIsaac, 2004; Moore, 1993), and effective distance teaching and learning depends upon the nature and facilitation of an interaction and how interaction through a technological medium (Moore & Kearsley, 2005). Researchers have devoted significant energy to examining effective distance learning. Unfortunately, the bulk of the research on effective distance learning in the United States (U.S.), to date, has focused on United State (U.S.) learners at U.S. institutions and has not fully considered or examined differences that might exist among culturally diverse learners, such as international learners, when enrolled in U.S. courses (Amirali & Bakken, 2015; Wang, 2009).

In this chapter, the authors will provide an overview of the distance learning and instructional design research literature, a description of the most common distance learning frameworks currently used in course design, and the documented impact of such frameworks on student outcomes. The authors will then discuss recent research that has raised questions regarding the effectiveness of utilizing current frameworks for distance learning course design when considering the growing international population enrolling in U.S. universities. Finally, suggested areas in need of further exploration, possible solutions for ensuring a diverse array of students’ success, and reiteration of the importance of considering the unique needs of culturally diverse students in order to ensure student success in higher education courses will be provided.

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