Open and Distance Education/Cultural influences in online learning/Regional Differentiation of Cultural Differences
In this part, we are going to summarize several key findings and examples from previous studies to illustrate the above theoretical perspectives on cultural differences in terms of cultural influence on learners in online learning. We do not aim to clearly compare and separate cultural backgrounds of learners among regions but try to depict typical and common cultural features that learners in several parts of the world share together. It is important to notice that the application of these examples will not totally fit all situations even if learners may originally come from the same region.
Identifying cultural backgrounds of learners in different countries or regions will help to understand their preferred learning situations. Hofstede (2011) positioned nations and regions based on the indexes of his six national culture dimensions, as follows.
- The power distance indexes (PDI) tend to be higher for East European, Latin, Asian and African countries and lower for Germanic and English-speaking Western countries. In other words, teacher-centered methods will be preferred by learners from East European, Latin, Asian and African countries, while learners from Germanic and English-speaking Western countries may prefer learner-centered approach.
- For uncertainty avoidance indexes (UAI), they tend to be higher in East and Central European countries, Latin countries, German-speaking countries, and Japan, and lower in English speaking, Nordic and Chinese culture countries.
- Individualism (INV) is represented in developed and Western countries, while collectivism is shown in less developed and Eastern countries.
- Masculinity (MAS) is high in Japan, in German-speaking countries, Italy and Mexico, and moderately high in English-speaking Western countries, implying that learners from these regions are more competitive in learning. Femininity is high in the Netherlands and Nordic countries (like Norway, Denmark, Finland, etc.); it is moderately high in some Latin countries (such as France, Spain, Portugal, Chile) and Asian countries (such as Korea and Thailand).
- Long-term orientation (LTO) is found in East Asia and Eastern and Central Europe. Short-term oriented are U.S.A. and Australia, Latin American, African and Muslim countries. Some countries in South- and North-European and South Asian countries are classified as medium-term orientation.
- Indulgence (IND) tends to prevail in South and North America, in Western Europe and in parts of Sub-Sahara Africa. Restraint prevails in Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Muslim world.
In recent years, research into cultural differences has expanded towards the realm of improvement of online learning environments. Al-Harthi (2010) analyzed two components of cultural variations in online learner engagement. Through the utilization of Moore's Transactional distance theory, Al-Harthi researched the difference between Arab and American distance education students. Findings revealed that Arab students preferred a more rigid structure and a preference for significantly more interaction with their instructors compared to American students (Al-Harthi, 2010). High-power distance existing among Arab students influence determines their instructor as an expert with a higher status and to avoid uncertainty these students rely on more communication trends with the course instructor. Al-Harthi (2010) Arab students preferred significantly more rigid structure and a preference for significantly more interaction with their instructor compared to American students.
Bing and Ai-Ping (2008) contributed other examples to the influence of cultures on online learners when examining two open universities in China and Malaysia. They found that Chinese learners tend to focus on academic success and obtaining paper qualification is highly concerned. They usually showed a high level of assertiveness and competitiveness among learners in learning (high degree of masculinity), required the exact scope of assessment, and preferred more structured ways of learning (high degree of uncertainty avoidance). Besides, they also expressed the reducing of power distance. On the other hands, learners in the Malaysian university were found to have a higher degree of individualism by their independence in thinking and discussions. They had a lower degree of masculinity as they appreciated supports and sharing of knowledge and lower degree of uncertainty avoidance. The only common dimension is the reducing of power distance.
Although being in the same Asia region with various shared culture features, learners from those universities show contradictory cultural dimensions in online learning. Besides, they also manifested several characteristics of western learners. It proves the importance of cultural transactions and that culture can be learned and adopted, especially thanks to the aid of technologies and globalization. Research of Bing and Ai-Ping (2008) also indicated that there was an evolution in some certain dimensions, such as the decrease of power distance and the increase of further and deeper engagement in the web-based learning environment.
Western and Eastern Cultures
To highlight the typical differences between the Eastern and Western regions, Jung (2015) synthesized and discussed several typical differences in ways of thinking and knowing and learning styles between Eastern and Western learners due to the influences of culture. Here are some examples:
- Western cultures tend to adopt an analytic approach, dividing reality into parts; Eastern cultures favour more synthetic approaches, focusing on the whole over parts (Spork 2004, in Jung 2015)
- Western thought is about seeking consistency and stressing the object; Eastern thought is about accepting contradiction and being more concern with the context (Nesbitt 2003, in Jung 2015).
- Western cultures are individualistic, logical, precise, action-oriented and low-context; Eastern (Asian) cultures are collective and high-context (Hofstede 1991, Hall 1976, in Jung 2015).
- Based on Kolb Learning Style Inventory, Confucian Asian cultures, which are considered high uncertainty avoidance and collectivism, prefer abstraction in learning. Learners from those cultures like learning from the others, especially from peers, seldom object others' opinions in discussions, avoid losing face. On the other hand, Western cultures prefer concreteness in learning. (Joy & Kolb, 2009, in Jung 2015). Open-ended discussions without conclusion will not be their favourite type.
The national culture dimensions of Hofstede remain some limitations, especially in the context of online learning. It is no doubt that the differences in culture between different countries and regions are significant to help to determine how learners interact in online learning. However, different cultures or sub-cultural traits may exist within a nation; culture is not static and may change within a nation or across generations; and besides those cultural dimension indexes, other factors as personal competencies, technical development, and political influences are closely related to online learning (Jung, 2015). Therefore, other theoretical frameworks are useful to consider more adequate aspects of cultural differences. Besides, culture can be learned and adapted "subconsciously" (Nieto, 2010 as cited in Jung, 2015) by learners during the process they are interacting with the learning environment, particularly the teachers and other learners who are from other cultural backgrounds. There will be no unique culture in one nation. Learners in the same nation or region may react differently in online learning contexts.
- Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensionalizing Cultures: Te Hofstede Model in Context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1). htps://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1014
- Al-Harthi, A.S. (2010) Cultural differences in transactional distance preference by Arab and American distance learners. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 11(4), 257 - 267. Information Age Publishing Inc
- Bing, W. & Ai-Ping, T. (2008) The influence of national culture towards learners' interaction in the online learning environment: A comparative analysis of Shanghai TV University (China) and Wawasan Open University (Malaysia).The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9(3), 327 - 339. Information Age Publishing Inc.
- Jung, I. (2015). Cultural influence on Online learning. In Jung, I., & Gunawardena, C. N. (Eds.). (2015). Culture and online learning: Global perspectives and research. Chapter 2. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
- Jung, I. (2015). Culture and Technology. In Jung, I., & Gunawardena, C. N. (Eds.). (2015). Culture and online learning: Global perspectives and research. Chapter 3. Stylus Publishing, LLC.