CULTURAL BACKGROUND AND THE BENEFITS OF E-LEARNING

P. Heath1, R. Miller2

1Higher Colleges of Technology (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
2Fort Lewis College (UNITED STATES)
E-learning and specifically online learning has been largely developed in Western countries, but the techniques and technologies are now in use all around the world. Hofstede’s seminal work on Cultural Dimensions shows that societal elements that are valued in Western cultures are not always valued in non-Western cultures. This suggests that a person’s perception of the benefits and quality of online learning will be influenced by his/her cultural background. This paper is a first attempt to study this connection between perceptions of online learning and cultural background.
The Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates provide tertiary education for national men and women. Faculty and management are primarily Western trained; students are raised and educated locally. HCT is consistently in the forefront of using educational technology and online learning tools for course delivery and additional skill development. This paper seeks to compare and contrast what expat teachers and local students perceive as the benefits of online learning, i.e. why online learning is helpful.
A set of proposed benefits for online learning was assembled from previous studies, as well as from HCT staff with expertise in online learning. The proposed benefits were grouped into the following categories: functionality, pedagogy, collaboration & engagement. Furthermore, benefits were linked where possible to Cultural Dimensions. Duplications were removed, and the set was collapsed down to a final list of 10 distinct benefits that was presented to faculty and students at one HCT campus. Each benefit was rated from very important to very unimportant, using a 5-point Likert scale. Respondents were also asked a number of classification questions. Students were classified according to type of high school attended, college level and academic division. Faculty were classified according to country of origin, length of HCT service, gender, age & academic division.
In general, each benefit was rated more highly (higher importance) by students than by faculty. Not surprisingly, student ratings were almost identical to ratings by faculty from non-Western countries (primarily Arab nations). Also, ratings by students at the highest level of study most closely resembled ratings by faculty.
Among faculty, significant differences were observed based on region of origin, years of service and age. No significant differences were detected by academic division or gender. Among students, significant differences were observed based on all classifications.
The study confirms that cultural background does indeed play a role in perceptions about online learning, but perhaps not in the ways expected by the authors. The reasons for the observed differences are discussed, and recommendations provided for communicating the benefits of online learning to students in a cross-cultural learning environment.