Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Introducing Blended Learning: An Experience of Uncertainty for Students in the United Arab Emirates

Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Introducing Blended Learning: An Experience of Uncertainty for Students in the United Arab Emirates

Article excerpt


The pedagogical approach of study in this paper is that of blended learning, i.e. a mix of face-to-face and e-learning instruction (Deepwell and Malik 2008; Martins and Kellermann 2004). We study the effect of one dimension, from within a culture framework, on the introduction to blended learning for business undergraduates at a university in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In this study we consult two culture frameworks for the insight they can offer the educator (Hofstede 1980, 1983; Project GLOBE [Global Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness] 2010). The researchers in Project GLOBE consider that

People are not generally aware of the tremendous impact that national culture has on their vision and interpretation of the world. Because culture colors nearly every aspect of human behavior, a working knowledge of culture and its influences can be useful to executives operating in a multicultural business environment. (Javidan et al . 2006, p. 67)

We contend that educators may not be aware of the impact of culture, and that it is useful for an educator to recognise the influence of culture on their students. For culture will impact both the perception of the learning environment and learner's behaviour. Of course this is equally true of the educator's vision and interpretation, but that is for a separate study.

In the culture model, the UAE is classified within the Middle East cluster of nations, and we investigate Uncertainty Avoidance (UA) because of the high score in that region for this cultural dimension (House, Javidan, and Dorfman 2001; Javidan et al . 2006; Kabasakal and Bodur 2002). UA is defined as "the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations" (Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov 2010, p. 191).

A confidential survey to evaluate the introduction of blended learning was administered to three cohorts of students. Content analysis of collected narrative data revealed student certainty and uncertainty for the introduction of a blended learning environment. Three indicators of certainty with a blended learning environment were found: student skills in the use of technology; student acknowledgement of course organisation; and student appreciation of online feedback. Uncertainty with the blended environment was also indicated: challenges with online research; learner seeking clarification about online tasks; uncertainty with material; and increased time on task.

Awareness about the cultural dimension of UA increased this educator's ability to diagnose potential challenges that may affect the introduction of blended learning (Bailey 2006; Sulkowski and Deakin 2010). Some lessons learned, and changes in pedagogy are suggested as a consequence of the study. The findings add to the body of knowledge, as this is the first study to be conducted on the effect of a cultural dimension for the introduction of blended learning to undergraduates in the UAE.

Literature review

The context for the introduction of learning technology in the United Arab Emirates

The UAE is a small country in the Middle East with a multi-cultural population of 8.26 million (UAE Statistics Bureau 2011). The introduction of learning technologies in western Higher Education is not a recent phenomenon, but for the UAE it is more recent, and is being pursued to support a knowledge economy (Alodiedat and Eyadat 2008; Mezias 2009; Owens and Price 2010).

The most important priority in UAE Higher Education is to change from traditional pedagogy, to prepare students for a technological workplace, with competency in "independent learning" and the "ability to work as a team" (UAE Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, His Highness Sheikh Nahayan Mubarak Al Nahayan, Mezies 2009, paragraphs 12-14). Academic study is required for the implications of learning technology, but research has, for the most part, been conducted outside the Middle East region (Alebaikan and Troudi 2011; Kemp 2011; Lansari, Tubaishat, and Al-Rawi 2010). …

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