Culture and Online Education
Charlotte N. Gunawardena
The University ofNew Mexico
Penne L. Wilson The University ofNew Mexico
Ana C. Nolla The University ofNew Mexico
This chapter examines the significance of culture and its impact on communication and the teaching and learning process in online courses and programs. We begin with a definition of culture and explore theoretical constructs that explain cultural variability in behavior and communication. Then, we look at how culture influences perception, cognition, the teachinglearning process, and the diffusion of online education. We conclude with a discussion of research issues in cross-cultural studies and the implications for future online education research. We borrow significantly from research conducted in the field of cross-cultural psychology, intercultural communication, and the emerging body of research on intercultural computermediated communication (CMC). While our discussion has implications for distance education in general, we relate our discussion and examples to the emerging field of online education.
The meaning of culture is a complex and difficult concept to define in a formal sense, although many definitions of culture exist. According to Branch (1997), “Culture is regarded as the epistemology, philosophy, observed traditions, and patterns of action by individuals and human groups” (p. 38). More than this static definition, however, are the concepts that culture is constantly changing and that individuals belong to more than one culture, some voluntarily and some involuntarily. Not only is culture an abstract concept of self and group, “it also consists of a distinctive symbol system together with artifacts that capture and codify the important and common experiences of a group” (Wild, 1999, p. 198). Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1998) explained that the essence of culture is not what is visible on the surface, and Hall (1998) added that “culture hides much more than it reveals and, strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants” (p. 59). Hall (1998) distinguished between manifest