(597-SP11) Culture, Context and Instructional Design

“Culture and learning are interwoven and inseparable.” -Catherine McLoughlin (1999)

When considering ICT4D, the study of culture in the context of instructional design is worth spending time on.  The argument over what culture is and how it can play a role in integrating technology is ongoing and the issue over the best way to design instruction for developing nations can be problematic.

Throughout the readings and participating in the forums, I had the sense that this topic was important but yet I was looking for an answer that I wasn’t going to find.  Dr. Perkins, in his journal article, wrote that:

“My concern is specifically about design created for people living in other countries than the designer’s own. If one cannot define a problem or challenge, how can a solution be created? The first challenge to the notion of “culturally-sensitive design,” then, is with the word choice itself. The concept may simply not be attainable because there is no way to know if a design achieves what cannot be defined.” (2008)

If culture cannot easily be defined then how can we possibly factor culture into design?  While Dr. Perkins lists some sub-categories for an educational designer to consider, the problem of defining culture in terms of ICT4D remains. Therefore are we, as westerners, only able to make educated guesses rather then concrete assertions?

Technology has been and continues to be a driving force in bringing developing nations out of poverty and into the digital age.  Furthermore, Arias and Clark stated that “Technology can make curricula more relevant and redefine teacher’s role…(and) Internet allows students and education practitioners to communicate with others.” (2004)  The very fact that developing nations are embracing technology is changing them culturally.

My issue since day one, however, has been the reoccurring thought of simply taking successful initiatives from one nation and mimicking them in another.  This doesn’t necessarily work as well as one would like.  Arias and Clark states that “Every effort should be made to avoid simple replication of the ICT-based learning processes used in industrialized countries.” (2004)  Even if the content was translated into a developing nations native language, the content may not be suitable in the context of how those students learn and what prior knowledge the students have.

Collis in her article stated that “Both technical and social facilities may need modifications for successful adoption in another culture.” (1999)  Imagine standing in front of a group of Native Alaskans, born and raised in a village of 200 people whom have never ventured into the lower 48 states (or what we would consider civilization for that matter).  If you were to teach them how to cross the street, you would need to teach them what a curb is, the concept of looking both ways and traffic light systems.  This simple lesson plan would need to be stripped down to its core and built up with these isolated people in mind.  Cultural contexts should be focused on the learner.

Lastly, arias and Clark wrote that:

“Designers will find that many decisions are made by a potentially unstable central authority that may or may not take into account the needs and desires of local constituents. The implications of this are that instructional designers will need to go out of their way to ensure that users have the opportunity to provide input and feedback into the design process.”

As I sit at my desk in Indiana, U.S.A, I could not possibly fathom what a high school student in Luanda, Angola could possibly need to succeed educationally.  Local and centralized input and feedback would ensure that the content and pedagogy was meaningful and insightful.  Furthermore I do not know how much technology can be relied upon to make learning relevant for an Angolan high school student, therefore I would have to “offer…an eclectic variety of types of learning experiences” (Collis, 1999) to ensure that my instructional design would be multi-cultural and usable in the given region and context.

Education is a challenge.  Ensuring technology integration is done with cultural sensitivity and with the learner in mind is more of a challenge.  The key to designing instruction is flexibility (making the content and pedagogy fit within the context) and asking the right questions to the right people (those who teach and learn in that environment).  The overall goal is to build up technology literacy (a 21st century skill) which creates strong human capital, which scholars alike believe is the foundation to economic growth and sustainability.


Arias, S. & Clark, K. (2004). Instructional technologies in developing countries: A contextual analysis approach. TechTrends, 48(4), 52-55, 70.

Collis, B. (1999). Designing for differences: Cultural issues in the design of WWW-based course-support sites. British Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 201-215.

McLoughlin, C. (1999). Culturally responsive technology use: Developing an on-line community of learners. British Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 231-243.

Perkins, R. A. (2008). Challenging questions and concerns of “culturally-sensitive design.” TechTrends, 52(6), 19-21

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