University Libraries & Learning Sciences Faculty and Staff Publications

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In this paper, we argue that adapting online courses for specific cultural groups takes time-intensive guesswork. Instead, instructional designers should employ the principles of universal design and social constructivism to build a course culture inclusive of all learners. Culture affects learners’ experiences in important, interconnected ways. Yet, it is equally difficult to predict culture’s effects on learning (Guild & Garger, 2016). These difficulties stem from the inherent complexity in human behavior. First, individuals may not reflect their cohort, especially when they belong to groups with conflicting values. Second, beliefs can influence one another in unforeseeable ways, and cultural values can be situational. Third, aligning with learners’ cultural preferences may not enhance learning outcomes. Building on the work of Mitchell and Joseph (2002), we propose a different approach, one in which instructional designers embrace culture without attempting to anticipate a given cohort’s unique needs. This can be done by reflecting on cultural values, designing with intention, communicating expectations, and giving control to learners. In the final portion of this article, we introduce the Wisdom Communities Instructional Design Model (WisCom)and describe why it is particularly well-suited for designing courses that account for the cultural experiences of all learners. WisCom emphasizes the formation of a dynamic learning community based on social-constructivist principles. In a WisCom-based online course, the community is at the heart of the learning experience. This emphasis on the group dynamics underscores the importance of culture by providing venues to explore preexisting values and negotiate new ones as a learning group.

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Journal of Distance Education in China



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Culture, instructional design, universal design, e-learning, wisdom

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.


Preprint English version of the article translated into Chinese.



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