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Flexible Learning Centre, University of South Australia,
International Graduate School of Business, University of South Australia,
AbstractPurpose – The purpose of this research is to focus on how students from different cultural andlinguistic backgrounds encounter online learning environments, and to assess the extent to whichcultural factors impact on learners’ engagement with online learning.
Design/methodology/approach – The study explores how a culturally diverse cohort of studentsengage with the organisational, technological and pedagogical aspects of online learning depicted inConole’s (2004) “framework for e-learning”. A total of 241 students in online learning programs in alarge university in South Australia were surveyed, yielding a response rate of 65 percent.
Findings – Analysis indicated that cultural differences do have an impact on participant satisfactionwith organisational and technological issues, with local respondents indicating significantly morepositive perceptions than international respondents. Significant also was a reported lack of peerengagement and intercultural communication.
Research limitations/implications – First, the study was restricted to students in one largeuniversity in Australia, using one in-house online learning system, and studying business courses.
Future research could replicate the study across a range of universities and across different countries,which would enhance generalisability. In addition, researchers can expand the model used in thisstudy, testing other variables which impact on online learning.
Practical implications – These differences in reported engagement with online learning reflectdifferences in students’ experience of online courses as culturally inclusive, and have implications forthe quality of online education. These reported experiences may be linked to the amount ofcommunicative interaction among students.
Originality/value – The paper examined the cultural aspects of student engagement with theorganisational, technological and pedagogical components of online learning. Its findings suggest adirection to improve the quality of learning for all students by constructing a culturally inclusiveonline learning environment.
Keywords Australia, E-learning, Universities, Students
IntroductionAustralia’s growing focus on global education has resulted in a culturally diverse
International Journal of EducationalManagement
student population. The number of international students attending Australian
educational institutions has more than doubled over the past decade (Lanham and
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Zhou, 2003). Student numbers first exceeded 100,000 in 1994. By 2005, the total number
of higher education students studying at Australian domestic or overseas operated
campuses was 239,495 (Department of Education, Science and Training, 2006). In 2004,
76,575 higher education enrolments were offshore international students (Australian
Education International, 2006, p. 4). Online learning has enabled higher educationinstitutions to provide courses to students on a global basis. While some courses areprovided totally online, other courses for students studying in Australia usuallyprovide online support. However, cultural differences present several challenges toonline delivery. Research indicates that the challenges that diversity presents for
effective online delivery have not been properly documented. Instructors usually fail totake into account cultural differences when designing and delivering courses. In thispaper, we identify the unique challenges that students from different cultural andlinguistic backgrounds encounter in an online learning environment. Specifically, ourstudy focuses on the cultural, organisational, technological and pedagogical aspectsdepicted in Conole’s (2004) “framework for e-learning”.
Growing importance of online learningEducational institutions now implement online learning technologies as part of theirgrowth strategy for delivery of teaching and learning to domestic and overseasstudents. Many commentators argue that the technologisation of education marks aprofound change in teaching and learning resulting in a “technological revolution”(Castells, 1996; Castells et al., 1999; Kellner, 2003) and “the transformation of tertiarypedagogy in the context of communications technologies’ (McLoughlin, 2001b, p. 7).
Goodfellow (2004) describes the “e-learning revolution”, as “an inexorable process ofpenetration of technical processes into all aspects of course development, production,delivery, quality assurance, assessment, validation etc.”. As these technologies pervadeeducational organisations, they are a critical factor in the process which is reshapingand transforming higher education teaching and learning, “impinging on bothorganisational structures and individual functions” (Conole, 2004, p. 5). Online learningsystems provide institutions with a “platform” for a macro-scale implementation ofe-learning, and the affordances of scale has led to a tendency of models of instructivistpedagogy (Goodyear, 2005; Goodyear and Jones, 2003; Roberts, 2004, p. 239; Sims andJones, 2002; Weller, 2004, pp. 87-8). As online learning continues to grow, newtechnologies are reconfiguring pedagogy, course organisation and delivery.
Cultural aspectsThe rapid growth of Internet usage has made global education through online deliveryrelatively easy. However, online education appears to reflect the English speakingworld’s view of its design, with many of these values remaining implicit and opaque tousers of online learning systems (Chase et al., 2002; Macfadyen, 2005). Unfortunately,cultural and language differences in students are not always explicitly incorporatedinto the planning and design of learning technologies, instructional design and genericcourseware (McLoughlin, 2001b; Reeder et al., 2004, p. 101). These culturalassumptions are described in the context of “internationalised online education” byDoherty (2004, p. 3), who identifies an idealisation of virtual networks that sustains thenotion of “cyberspace as a culturally inclusive, colour-blind utopia”.
Researchers have also observed that there are “cultural gaps” between individuals
in online communication (Chase et al., 2002), and that “participation rates differ bycultural grouping” in online communication (Macfadyen et al., 2003; McLoughlin,
2001a, 2001b, 1999). These studies indicate that cultural differences exist between
participants and teachers. In addition, the learning technology with its interface,
procedures, menus, and conditions of interaction present unique challenges to studentsfrom different cultural backgrounds. We believe that the pedagogical and culturalneutrality of online learning systems results in ineffective delivery of online educationand reduces the attainment of good learning outcomes for culturally diverse
Organisational issues in online learningOnline technologies, particularly networked learning management systems, haveenabled educational institutions to expand rapidly while enjoying organisationalefficiencies afforded by the scale of implementation. Doherty (2004, p. 4) recalls thecompetitive mission, where the “vision of online delivery of courses to internationaland domestic students has become a popular solution to extend markets, maximizeprofits, lower costs and position institutions competitively”. These efficiencies emerge,in part, from separation of resource development and IT support from teaching areas.
Several authors have criticised this separation of resource development from
delivery. For example, the focus on short term goals often results in the production oflearning resources using an instruction design model that may not align with all therequirements of the teaching and learning environment (Sims and Jones, 2002). Leask(2004, p. 347) found that information and communication technologies are used “inways that do not enhance teaching and learning”, for example, “dumping” largeamounts of text onto a website.
Organisational separations potentially produce conflicts at different levels. Conflicts
exist between macro-level policies such as increased market share and micro-levelissues such as the desire to provide high quality teaching and learning. Conflicts alsooccur between the micro and meso-levels in terms of educational and organisationalstaff support (professional training, incentives) and quality indices (Valcke, 2001). Themeso-level is described as students, teams, support staff and administrative staff. Thecombination of available resources, large groups of students and an efficient deliverysystem often becomes more important than deliberate pedagogy.
However, learning management systems do have pedagogical potential and
capabilities for collaborative and interactive learning activities, when designed aroundconstructivist pedagogies. An example of this approach is McLoughlin’s use ofcollaborative technologies and virtual communities to develop “effective cross-culturalpedagogy” (McLoughlin, 2001b, p. 15). As Goodyear and Jones (2003, p. 40) point out,there is a tension between the access and availability of generic resources producedthrough an instructional design model, and the development of interaction richteaching and learning environment. Online learning is shaped by a complex interactionof technological and organisational factors which could have a differential impact onculturally diverse learners. We therefore hypothesise that:
Learners from different language backgrounds respond differently to theorganisational imperatives and arrangements which are built into onlinelearning technologies.
Several commentators note that a technology-led curriculum design is common with
online platforms. Organisational and technological imperatives often lead the planningand design of curriculum (Goodyear and Jones, 2003, p. 31; Weller, 2004, p. 89). There isa “preoccupation with technology per se, and neglect of pedagogical theory” (McMullin,2005, p. 67). Technology is used for little more than acting as a content repository or foradministrative purposes (Conole, 2004, p. 2). Online learning platforms, in themselves,
offer an online environment with a multiplicity of tools and capabilities, but are poor indesign and guidance. There is often no clear view on how learning activity andinformation resource (content) are meant to relate” (Goodyear and Jones, 2003, p. 40).
In the technology-led approach, the values of access and management of content
underpin the design and development in e-learning (Goodyear and Jones, 2003, p. 40;McMullin, 2005, p. 68). These cultural values of the Internet, or “cyberculture values“(Reeder et al., 2004, pp. 91, 92), when applied to online learning platforms, are describedas cultures which “value communications characterized by speed, reach, quickresponse, questions/debate, and informality”. Consequently, the use of online learningsystems tends to favour the application of platforms as content repositories,organisation of content, tracking and reporting, and a focus on interoperability,discoverability, reusable learning objects, and shareability (Kenney et al., 2004).
Unfortunately, greater access is not usually linked with pedagogically informed
beliefs about students’ learning activities (Goodyear and Jones, 2003, p. 40). In thisapproach the pedagogies are implicit and practice may be guided by the inherentcultural values of the software tools themselves and by the technical underpinnings ofthe Internet tools of cyberspace (Chase et al., 2002). Daalsgard (2005, p. 8) calls fortechnology to reject “pedagogical neutrality”, and that “technology should be designedexplicitly to support certain activities”. Cecez-Kecmanovic and Webb (2000, p. 83) statethat it would be fallacious to assume that by providing technologically advancedenvironments such as web-mediated group work and discussion spaces, andinstructing students about the task, purpose of group work and norms of behaviour,successful collaborative learning will naturally take place.
We believe that there are cultural and language differences brought by learners
when they engage with the technologies of online platforms. These cultural differencesinteract with the historical origins and the cultural basis of technology itself. Inaddition, the cultural differences of the learners also interact with the implicit languageof procedures and actions structured by the online technology. This leads us to oursecond hypothesis.
Learners from different cultural backgrounds differ in their ability to workwith online learning technologies.
Pedagogical issues in online learningPedagogically-led approaches reflect in general, a learning design approach, placinglearning goals and outcomes before choice of content. Such approaches are concernedwith models for good design of effective blended and distance learning (Sims andJones, 2002). Pedagogical approaches facilitate deep learning rather than surfacelearning (Ramsden, 1992, p. 86). Researchers point to the need for studies to uncoverthe underpinning pedagogy of online course delivery, explore gaps between the models
of pedagogy and practice in intercultural contexts (Conole, 2004, pp. 7, 8; McLoughlin,
As online learning involves a greater number of learners, educational
institutions are concerned about how cultural differences are managed in virtualspaces, particularly for off-campus and transnational learning contexts. Some ofthese concerns include the lack of face-to-face communication which “problematises
intercultural communication” (Chase et al., 2002), the presumed “culturally neutral”design of instructional design models for the Web (McLoughlin and Oliver, 2000),the Anglo-American assumptions underpinning “cyberculture values” (Reeder et al.,2004), and the danger of viewing online communication as “culture neutral” orculture-free tools for information exchange (Macfadyen, 2005; Chase et al., 2002).
Doherty (2004, p. 5) describes an “utopian dream”, where cyberspace is“colour-free”, and “the dissolution of geo-political boundaries has tended to alsodissolve the imagined boundaries/obstacles of linguistic and cultural difference.”.
The presence of a diverse student body has meant that the need for a culturally
inclusive curriculum design has become a central issue for learning (Hellsten andPrescott, 2004; Knight, 2003, 1997; Liddicoat, 2004; McLoughlin, 2001a, 2001b).
Hellsten and Prescott (2004) identified the gap between the reported experiences ofinternational students and staff. Leask (2004) and Alexander (2002) identify theneed for strategic support for students in both online learning and cross-culturalcommunication. Leask (2004, p. 348) provides a model of support involving“integration of resources and activities” which are not just part of the orientationprogram but are “embedded into programs offered to domestic students.”
The habits of interaction that occur in a physical location, that is, ways of speaking,
markers of identity and culture, and non-verbal communication, are not available in thecyberspace location, at least not in the same way (Chase et al., 2002). There are,therefore, dangers in assuming the transfer of learning from a face-to-face setting, witha localised knowledge-base and contexts, to an online system with diverse cultures andglobal reach (McLoughlin, 2001b, p. 8; Wilson, 2001, p. 52). A simple substitution offace-to-face interaction with a screen interface, interposes the Internet culture of onlinetechnologies, or cyberculture between all participants (Macfayden et al., 2004; Reederet al., 2004, pp. 91-2). A focus on the user, in this case the learner, brings to the fore thelearner’s linguistic and cultural experience in the encounter with a text-based interface.
Computer mediated communication involves the uses of technology where Englishlanguage assumptions must be negotiated. In addition, understanding the meanings oficons, translation into non-roman script, reading the language of technical help files,interpreting menus, colours and navigational structures require unique skills(McLoughlin, 2001a). Thorne suggests that the use (“cultures-of-use”) of onlinecommunication tools “differs interculturally just as communicative genre, pragmatics,and institutional context would be expected to differ interculturally” (Thorne, 2003, p.
38). This leads us to our third research hypothesis.
Learners from different cultural backgrounds usually do not experienceonline programs as culturally inclusive, in both engagement with content andwith the teaching and learning environment.
Data for this study were collected from undergraduate and postgraduate students whowere studying online in the Division of Business at a large Australian university.
Three online courses were selected at random and 360 students taking these courseswere included in this study. The questionnaires were sent be email to two groups ofstudents and a paper based version of the questionnaire was administered to the third
group of students. Each questionnaire was accompanied by a covering letter whichbriefly explained the purpose of the study. All responses were anonymous. Studentswere told that the data was research purposes only and that their responses would bekept confidential.
The survey instrumentData were collected using a structured questionnaire. The questionnaire was based onConole’s (2004) framework for e-learning. This framework focuses on the structural,technological and pedagogical aspects of the online teaching and learning environment.
Since there were no pre-existing survey instruments using this framework, weformulated a series of statements to measure students level of agreement of disagreementfor each of the three components of Conole’s (2004) framework. The statements werechosen based on a typology of learner engagement used by Goodyear and Jones (2003, p.
30). They distinguished types of “courseware” in “a three-phase model of students” use oftechnology in higher education that invokes a cycle of conceptualisation, constructionand critique”, (after Mayes and Neilson, 1996). In this model, courseware is distinguishedas primary, secondary and tertiary, with primary courseware being created by teachersand designers, for broad use, at the level of initial conceptualisation. Secondarycourseware is the customisation of content to build learning activities, and tertiarycourseware are the interactions among learners and teachers, at the level of discourse andcritique. A two dimensional matrix was constructed based on Conole’s (2004) componentsand the typology described by Goodyear and Jones (2003) (see Table I).
Each statement was written to match one of Conole’s components, and one of the three
levels of courseware, so that each “cell” of the matrix provided three or four statements.
The questionnaire was pilot tested with a small number of students, and developed
for readability and consistency of meaning. The total length of the questionnaire wasfour pages and took about 12 minutes to complete. The questionnaire used in thisstudy consisted of four major sections:
(2) program organisation (nine questions);
Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the questionnaire used five point Likert scales (1 ¼ strongly
ResultsA total of 241 completed and usable questionnaires were received, yielding an overallresponse rate of 65 percent. There was a greater representation of female students (54.8
percent) compared to male students (45.2 percent). While the age group of therespondents ranged from 18 to 54 years, the mean age was relatively low at 24.71. 81.3percent of the respondents were below the age of 30. 42.7 percent of the respondentswere Australian citizens. English was the first language for only 46.9 percent of therespondents. 52.7 percent of the respondents were international students. 82.6 percentof the respondents were full time students and 17.4 percent were part time students. 49percent of the respondents were undergraduate students while 51 percent were postgraduate students. Only 39.4 percent of the respondents stated that their current degreewas their first experience of study after school. 70.8 percent of the respondentsindicated that they were confident with computer technology while 29.2 percent werenot so confident with computers.
Overall satisfaction with online learningThe result of this study indicated that overall, participant satisfaction with onlinelearning is mediocre as the overall mean is only 3.34. As indicated in Table II, the meanscore of all three critical components of online learning i.e. organisational issues,technological issues and pedagogical issues were slightly over the mid point of the fivepoint scale. Technological issues appeared to be the most problematic, withparticipants indicating only a 64.8 percent satisfaction level with online learningtechnology.
We conduced t-tests to assess whether there were any differences in responses
based on gender and age. The median age of the respondents was 24 years. Weconducted a median-split based on age and compared younger respondents with olderrespondents. Results of this analysis indicated that there were no significantdifferences based on either the gender of the respondent or on age.
We also did not find any significant differences when we compared the responses of
undergraduate students to postgraduate students. Similarly, there were no significantdifferences based on whether the current online program was the first program afterschool or was a subsequent program.
We analysed responses to individual questions by combining the responses to
“Strongly Disagree” and “Disagree” to reflect “Below Average” satisfaction. The
Notes: 1 ¼ Strongly disagree; 5 ¼ Strongly agree
mid-point of our five point Likert scale was “No Opinion”. Hence, we combined
responses to “Agree” and “Strongly Agree” to reflect “Above Average” satisfaction.
Our analysis of responses to individual questions for each component of onlinelearning is presented below.
Satisfaction with organisational issuesIn order to identify the overall satisfaction with organisational issues, the mean score
for organisational issues was calculated. As indicated in Table II, organisational issueshad a mean score of 3.30 reflecting a 66 percent satisfaction level. The responses forindividual questions on organisational issues are shown in Table III.
Analysis of the data in Table II indicates that 71.8 percent of the respondents felt
that they were easily able to get started with studying online. In addition, nearlytwo-thirds of the respondents felt they knew whom to contact if they needed help, thatgood study/language support was available and the program delivered what itpromised. However, there appear to be problems in other areas. Isolation appears to bea major issue with less than half the respondents feeling that there was goodcommunication with students from other cultural backgrounds and that it was easy toget to know fellow students.
Additional analysis of the data indicated that there was a significant difference
between students whose first language was English (Mean ¼ 3:38) of organisationalissues when compared with the Mean of 3.23 for students whose first language was notEnglish (t ¼ 2:04, p , 0.05).
There were significant differences between local students (Mean ¼ 3:39) and
international students (Mean ¼ 3:22) when asked about organisational issues(t ¼ 2:21, p , 0.05). An interesting finding was that part-time students had morepositive perceptions of organisation issues (Mean ¼ 3:46) when compared to full-timestudents (Mean ¼ 3:27). This difference was significant (t ¼ 1:94, p , 0.05). We alsofound that respondents who were comfortable with computer technology had morepositive perceptions of organisation issues (Mean ¼ 3:28) when compared withrespondents who were not so comfortable with computer technology (Mean ¼ 3:12).
This difference was significant (t ¼ 3:18, p , 0.01).
I was easily able to get started with studying online
I often have to sort out my course problems on myown
It took me a lot of time to organise myself and getinvolved in this program
I find the program delivers what it promised
I have good communication with students from othercultural backgrounds
I find useful guidance and advice are available when
It is easy to get to know my fellow students
Table I indicates that the mean for overall satisfaction with technology is 3.24
indicating a 64.8 percent satisfaction level. Satisfaction with technology had the lowestmean score of the three aspects of online learning included in this study. The responsesfor individual questions on technological issues are shown in Table IV.
Analysis of the data indicates that 71 percent of the respondents had no problems
using the online technology. However, there appear to be problems with the way inwhich technology is used in online course delivery. Only 55.7 percent of therespondents believe that online discussion in the program is relevant. Similarly, only57.6 percent believe that the rules and expectations in using online discussion are clear.
The results also indicate that technical skills in writing in an analytical and criticalstyle are inadequately taught. Nearly half the respondents (46.5 percent) expresseddifficulty in this area. It is surprising to note that only 7.1 percent of the respondentswrote long posts in online discussions. Just over half the respondents (51 percent)believe that technical help is available and helpful. The cold side of technology is onceagain evident with only half the respondents (49.8 percent) indicating that they foundonline communication a friendly experience.
Additional analysis of the data indicated that respondents whose first language was
English had significantly higher mean scores (Mean ¼ 3:31) when compared withrespondents whose first language was not English (Mean ¼ 3:17). This difference wassignificant (t ¼ 2:58, p , 0.01).
We found that local students were more satisfied with technological issues
(Mean ¼ 3:33) when compared to international students (Mean ¼ 3:15). The differencebetween the mean scores was significant (t ¼ 3:30, p , 0.001). We also found thatrespondents who were confident with computer technology had higher mean scores(Mean ¼ 3:31) than respondents who were not confident with computers(Mean ¼ 3:07). This difference was significant (t ¼ 4:23, p , 0.001).
I had no problems using the online technology
Online discussion in the program is useful andrelevant
I need to e-mail the lecturer often during a course
The rules and expectations in using onlinediscussion are clear to me
I sometimes need help using the online software andfinding my way around
I usually write long posts to online discussion
It is easy to use an informal writing style in onlinediscussion
I find it difficult to write in an analytical or criticalstyle
I found online communication a friendly experience,
Table II indicates that the mean for overall satisfaction with technology is 3.47
indicating a 69.4 percent satisfaction level. The responses for individual questions onpedagogical issues are shown in Table V.
Analysis of the responses to the individual questions indicate that respondents are
reasonably satisfied with the relevance of readings and case studies (74.7 percent) andfind it easy to relate to learning activities (69.8 percent). Respondents also enjoy
working with other students to solve problems (69.7 percent) and to compare differentpoints of view (70.9 percent). About two-thirds of the students (67.3 percent) felt thecourse had practical applications to the real world. Only 42.3 percent of the studentsfound it easy to write to the group about themselves and express their points of view. Itis surprising to note that only 23.2 percent of the students often post comments andresponses to other students in online discussions.
We did not find any significant differences between the responses of Australian
students and students of other nationalities when asked about pedagogical issues.
There were also no significant differences between students whose first language isEnglish compared to students whose first language is not English. Surprisingly, therewere no significant differences between the responses of international and localstudents. In addition, no significant differences were found between students who wereconfident using computers compared to students who were not confident withcomputers.
DiscussionIn view of the rapid increase in online learning, this paper focused on the challengesthat students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds encounter in an online
The readings and case studies are relevant to me
I find it easy to relate to the learning tasks andactivities
I enjoy working with other students to solveproblems
The course has many practical applications to myworld
I enjoy writing to the group about myself andexpressing my point of view
The feedback during courses helped me understandhow I was progressing in the program
I often post comments and responses to otherstudents by online discussion
I discovered many different points of view fromother students
The assessments are clear and I know how toproceed
I enjoy working with other students on tasks and
learning environment. We examined these challenges by focusing on the
organisational, technological and pedagogical aspects depicted in Conole’s (2004)
“framework for e-learning”. The results of our study indicate that participantsatisfaction with online learning is only mediocre with the overall mean of only 3.34 ona five point Likert scale. In addition, the mean scores for organisational issues,technological issues and pedagogical issues were slightly over the mid point of the
scale. We found cultural differences in participant perceptions of organisational andtechnological issues. These findings are in consonance with past research whichindicated that there are cultural gaps between individuals in online communication(Chase et al., 2002) and that cultural differences affect participant rates in onlinelearning (Macfayden et al., 2003; McLoughlin, 2001a, 2001b, 1999).
We did not find any differences in satisfaction levels based on gender, age or
education level. The mediocre satisfaction levels of the participants of our studyindicate that the profound change in teaching learning (Castells et al., 1999, Castells,1996; Kellner, 2003) and the transformation of tertiary pedagogy in the context ofcommunication technologies (McLoughlin, 2001b, p. 7) have not really occurred.
Instead, it appears that educational institutions are expanding online course deliverywith very few changes to their traditional methods of course design.
We examined participant satisfaction with organisational issues. We had
hypothesised that learners from different language backgrounds responddifferently to the organisational imperatives and arrangements which are builtinto online learning technologies. Our first hypothesis was supported. Studentswhose first language was English had significantly more positive perceptionswhen compared with students whose first language was not English. We alsofound that local students had more positive perceptions of organisational issuesthan international students. The findings of this study reinforce the need to use adeliberate pedagogical design approach in course construction. It appears thatcurrently, organisational imperatives lead the planning and design of curriculum(Goodyear and Jones, 2003, p. 31). The results of our study indicated thatfamiliarity with computer technology appeared to have an impact. Students whowere more comfortable with computers had greater satisfaction levels withorganisational issues. However, overall satisfaction with organisational issues wasonly 66 percent (Mean ¼ 3:30).
Our second hypothesis focused on satisfaction with technological issues. We
had hypothesised that learners from different cultural backgrounds differ in theirability to work with online learning technologies. This hypothesis was supported.
Native speakers of English had significantly higher mean scores than otherrespondents. In addition, local students were more satisfied with technologicalissues than other students. We also found part-time students were morecomfortable with technology than other students. As expected, students who werefamiliar with computer technology had more positive perceptions of technologicalissues than students who were not so comfortable with computers. The results ofour study indicate that satisfaction with technology was 64.8 percent and is thelowest of the three areas studied. Additional analysis of the data indicated that itwas not technology per se that was problematic. Rather, technological supportappeared to be inadequate reflecting the desire of educational institutions to makemore profits from online learning with inadequate investment in infrastructure
support (Reeder et al., 2004). Respondents also indicated that greater support was
needed to develop their skills in writing in an analytical and critical style. While
online discussion is expected to replace classroom interaction, only 7.1 percent ofthe respondents wrote long posts. The need to develop writing skills and facilitategreater online discussion is clearly evident. Educational institutions need toprovide greater support in this area.
Our third hypothesis focused on pedagogical issues. We had hypothesised that
learners from different cultural backgrounds would not experience online programs asculturally inclusive, in both engagement with content and with the teaching andlearning environment. This hypothesis was not supported. We did not find significantdifferences between Australian students and students of other nationalities. There wasalso no significant difference between students whose first language was English whencompared to other students. Surprisingly, the responses of local students topedagogical issues were not significantly different from the responses of internationalstudents. Overall, satisfaction with pedagogy was 69.4 percent (Mean ¼ 3:47). Theresults of our study indicate that problems with pedagogy appear to be common to allstudents, irrespective of cultural differences. Once again, including interaction as partof the pedagogy is important and participants need to be encouraged to participatemore in online discussions.
A theme which emerged from all three aspects of the survey was a lack of positive
response on Likert scale ratings concerning communication with other students inonline learning contexts. These responses indicate about half (50.2 percent) did nothave “good communication with students from other cultural backgrounds”. Over half(54.8 percent) of students did not find it “easy to get to know fellow students”. Abouthalf the respondents (49.8 percent) perceived a lack of friendliness of onlinecommunication while less than half (42.3 percent) did not enjoy writing to fellowstudents and expressing a point of view. Less than 25 percent of the respondents “oftenpost comments and responses to other students by online discussion”. These responsesare drawn from all three components of online learning in this study and suggest a lackof peer engagement in online communication among students.
Our study has a few limitations. First, the study is restricted to students in one large
university in Australia. Sophistication of online delivery and support services mayvary between different universities. Our study does not capture these differences.
Secondly, we surveyed students who were taking online courses in the Division ofBusiness. It is possible that students who are taking courses in programs such asEngineering, may be more familiar with computers and may require less technicalsupport. Third, our study included students in three large online courses. True randomsampling could not be adopted as we were not able to access the names of all studentsin the university who were taking online courses.
Future research could replicate the study across a broad range of universities and
across different countries. This will enhance the generalisability of the findings of thestudy. Second, researchers can expand the model we used in this study. Other variableswhich impact online learning can be included and tested. Third, pure random samplingtechniques can be adopted to enhance the validity of the findings of this study. Webelieve that by adopting these techniques, future research can help to enhance thequality of online education.
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About the authorsJohn Hannon, MArts (Research), GradDipApplied Art, DipEd, BArts, is an academic developerwith the University of South Australia. He works with academic staff on developing interactiveand dialogic approaches to teaching and learning, in both virtual and physical learningenvironments. His current research interests are learning spaces where a diversity of culturalperspectives and communication styles converge. His teaching background is in the areas ofmedia, hypertext, communication and multimedia, and has worked in the development of onlineeducation resources, multimedia and broadcast media production. He is the correspondingauthor and can be contacted at: email@example.com
Brian D’Netto is an Associate Professor and Program Director at the International Graduate
School of Business, University of South Australia. Dr D’Netto has a PhD in Human ResourceManagement from the State University of New York at Buffalo, USA. He has published researchpapers in international refereed journals and has presented his research at national andinternational conferences. His current research interests include Recruitment and Selection,Training and Development, Performance Management, Compensation Systems, EmployeeRelations and Managing Workforce Diversity. Dr D’Netto received an award for outstandingteaching in 2005 by the University of South Australia.
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