“Technology is encoded with the characteristics of the culture that developed it” (Dunbar, 1991 as cited in Adeoye & Wentling, 2007).
“E-learning neither eliminates cultural differences nor is it culture free.” (Swierczek & Bechter, 2008).
For effective learning one must take into consideration the learner’s personal cognitive styles but also cultural ones (Henderson, 1996 as cited in Adeoye & Wentling, 2007) as these have an impact on e-learning behaviours (Swierczek & Bechter, 2008) and website design in general. The research suggest that it is not sufficient to merely translate the text when adapting a website for another culture but to reconsider the entire communication strategy (Würtz, 2005).
In a (tiny ) literature review two popular frameworks by anthropologists Edward Hall(ANNEX I) and Geert Hofstede (ANNEX II) were consistently used to evaluate various technologies from a cultural perspective.
Hall’s framework (Hall 1976,2000 as cited in Würtz, 2005, Swierczek & Bechter, 2008, Ahmed, Mouratidis & Preston, 2008) suggests that all cultures can be situated through their communication styles with each other ie. High Context (HC) or Low Context (LC).
HC cultures are those that correspond to Hofstede’s collectivist cultures. These culture’s communication patterns tend to be more ambiguous, understated and indirect with a priority on maintaining harmony within the group. In discussion groups these students will not initiate a new thread or discussion with the tutor but if someone else does they will respond with many questions for the teacher (Swierczek & Bechter, 2008). They reveal a high Power Distance (Hofstede, 2006) culture which indicates acceptance of hierarchical power structures and corresponds to a preference for this teacher centric focus (Swierczek & Bechter, 2008). As these cultures also tend to avoid high uncertainty (Hofstede, 2006) in learning situations, they may prefer theory as a starting point for learning leading to deductions (Swierczek & Bechter, 2008). Another implication of avoiding high uncertainty is that these users tend to take a longer time to learn (Adeoye & Wentling, 2007).
Low Context (LC) cultures tend towards more ‘direct, precise, dramatic, open’ communication (Würtz,2005) and are more individualistic. In discussion groups LC individuals are more prone to introducing their own discussion questions, show more competitiveness and criticism and will frequently chat with the tutor reflecting a low Power Distance, tendancy towards greater risk and innovation, an individual achievement orientation and acknowledging the tutor as facilitator (Swierczek & Bechter, 2008).
They show a preference for rational, highly structured content which is standardized, contains a lot of text and gets straight to the point (Würtz, 2005). They tend towards preferring learning through induction (Swierczek & Bechter, 2008)
The following table highlights some other differences that have implications for design (Würtz, 2005, Swierczek & Bechter, 2008, Ahmed, Mouratidis & Preston, 2008)
|Tendency of websites in HC Cultures||
Tendency of websites in LC Cultures
|Animation, Imagery vs text||High use of imagery and animation. Focus on metaphors, nuances and other non-verbal cues, centred on images of peopleMore likely to use imagery to convey information including navigational information||Lower use, mainly for highlighting effects.More likely to use text to convey information|
|Level of Transparency||Links are process-orientated, promote an exploratory approach to navigation||Goal-orientated cues are clear and lead directly to information.|
|Linear vs parallel navigation||Tend towards layer-upon-layer design of layout with many bright colours, fonts and shapes. Information hidden under other information on page.||Tend to be tabular and functional in design. Information is side-by-side and less use of pop-up windows. New information opens in same browser window.|
|Time and Message Speed||Users more patient and willing to explore the site to seek information.Accepts slower message speed as part of building relationships. Fast messages may be missed.||Time is very important and speed is indicative of efficiency.Messages tend to be those that can be quickly and easily decoded.|
Hall (1976,2000 as cited in Würtz, 2005, Swierczek & Bechter, 2008 and Ahmed, Mouratidis & Preston, 2008 )
Hofstede (2006) Cultural Dimensions
Adeoye, B. & Wentling, R. (2007). The relationship between national culture and the usability of an e-learning system. International Journal on ELearning, 6(1), 119-146.
Ahmed, T., Mouratidis, H., Preston, D. (2008) ‘Website Design and Localisation: A Comparison of Malaysia and Britain’ International Journal of CyberSociety and Education, 1 (1) 3 -16. Retreived on 22.03.2011 from http://www.academicjournals.org/ojs2/index.php/IJCSE/article/viewFile/454/2
Hofstede, G. 2006. A summary of my ideas about national culture differences. Retrieved on 22.03.2011 from http://www.uigarden.net/english/national_culture_differences
Swierczek, F. W., & Bechter, C. (2008). Cultural Features of E-Learning – A Euro-Asian Comparison. Paper presented at the International Conference on Cognition and Exploratory Learning in Digital Age, Freiburg, Germany. Retrieved on 22.03.2011 from http://www.iadis.net/dl/final_uploads/200818L027.pdf
Würtz, E. (2005). A cross-cultural analysis of websites from high-context cultures and low-context cultures. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(1), article 13. Retrieved on 22.03.2011 from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol11/issue1/wuertz.html