Overcoming 3 Cultural Barriers To eLearning
vectorgirl/Shutterstock.com

How To Overcome Cultural Barriers To eLearning: 3 Lessons From Dr. Michael Baron

On completion of my postgraduate studies in Australia, I returned to my home country, China, to put my newly-acquired knowledge to good practical use. I am currently involved in projects that aim to make training programs run by overseas Universities accessible to Chinese learners. As I got started, I immediately realized that cultural barriers to eLearning, or in general delivering educational content internationally, are at times far more significant than the technology related ones.

Luckily, I have been able to get Dr. Michael Baron, CEO Baron Consulting and one of the leading Australian eLearning specialists, to become an advisor on our eLearning delivery projects. As we identified what we believe are the 3 main cultural barriers to eLearning, we threw those “challenges” at Michael and asked him to advise us how to deal with them in the most efficient yet a cost-effective way.

We found Michael’s feedback most useful and are happy to share it with others to learn from.

Dr. Michael Baron has been advising several Australian and Asian Universities on eLearning development issues

Dr. Michael Baron has been advising several Australian and Asian Universities on eLearning development issues

1. Many Of The International Learners Find It Difficult To "Fit Into" A Foreign Classroom

When international students study on campus, they are able to make friends and learn how to socialize with local students easily by joining non-academic activities and communicating informally. Unfortunately for many of the international eLearners, getting to know classmates appears to be a difficult task to accomplish. Also, for many of the international students coming from authoritarian societies (such as China), asking questions in class and arguing with the lecturer/trainer is considered to be an unacceptable practice.

Michael Baron:

It is clear that Universities, Colleges, and other providers of online courses need to take proactive approach in engaging all of the learners into the interactive learning process. Ability to recruit international students is one of essential elements of making the courses profitable (aka successful), so it is important to tailor the learning environment to their needs.

Virtual classrooms are sometimes wrongfully believed to be "anti-social" when compared to face-to-face delivery. On the contrary, if managed efficiently, they can bring students together and take the degree of collaboration to a brand new level. One solution would be to plan and manage classes in a way that requires students to contribute proactively to the eClassrooms’ environment. Students could also be broken into groups and use collaborative tools (such as for instance Google+ Handouts or Cisco WebEx) to study together. This way, local and international students would be inclined to work as a team from the start of the course.

2. Not All Of The International Learners Are Familiar With "Western-Style" Assessments

Australian, European, and American Universities are doing a great job making online assessments creative and fun (as fun as assessment tasks can possibly be) to undertake. eLearning platforms and tools can turn seemingly boring assessments into original and fascinating tasks. However, in many countries (Asian countries in particular) students take their studies very seriously and they will hardly appreciate computer-game-style assessments or entertaining animation, as they will be too focused and nervous about achieving a high grade. Under exam conditions, they would rather go through a boring multiple-choice paper than a highly original and interactive assessment.

Michael Baron:

As already discussed above, it is essential to get international students to engage proactively with their local classmates so they can get a real taste of studying in an overseas university/college while remaining in a virtual classroom. Likewise, with assessments – they need to gradually familiarize themselves with the educational environment at the institution they are undertaking their studies from. More specifically, the problem could be addressed by providing learners with "practice exams" that would enable international learners to get a "taste" of the assessment formats and structures. For instance, all of the eCourses that I am developing or consulting on development of include separate review sections for the learners to test their knowledge of the subjects and gain better understanding of the assessment mechanisms at the same time. All of the mainstream eLearning platforms (Moodle, Blackboard, etc.) make development of such "mock assessments" easy.

3. Language Barrier

The language barrier is the most obvious, yet arguably one of the most difficult, cultural barriers to eLearning for the international learners to overcome. The challenge is particularly testing when it comes to "live" events such as webinars, online group discussions, and other activities where international students will have to speak-up in their second language while watched by people they do not know. Many of the learners are likely to start feeling shy and uncomfortable, so they will remain quiet (even if they do have questions to ask or contribution to the discussion to make) in order to avoid potential embarrassment.

Michael Baron:

Once again, virtualization of the international classroom is a blessing rather than a curse. First of all, all of the lecturers and seminars can be recorded and uploaded to the course site. While it is of benefit to all of the students, international students are the ones who are going to appreciate it most, as they will be able to reply the recordings over and over again whenever they are not clear what’s going on. The recordings should be armed with forum-style comment options, so the students can share their concerns and uncertainties with fellow classmates and instructors. Such discussions can turn into outstanding learning experiences. Secondly, every major training provider that delivers their course internationally employs support staff for assisting international learners. There is no reason why the very same language support services cannot be delivered online.

To sum up, I am feeling confident that online courses can be marked and delivered worldwide successfully. Cultural barriers to eLearning are not to be ignored, but they are not to be scared of either. As evident from the discussion above, they can be dealt with successfully.

Close