Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 1
Culturally Responsive Online Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections
Gail Morong Donna DesBiens
Senior Instructional Designer Learning Designer
Thompson Rivers University Independent Consultant
Kamloops, Canada Kamloops, Canada
Gail Morong is a Senior Instructional Designer with the Open Learning Division at Thompson
Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada. Her interest in equity and diversity issues
informs her instructional design focus on interculturalization, internationalization and
Indigenization strategies for online learning contexts, and the use of open processes and
resources to make teaching and learning transformative. Her recent projects include research
and presentations on open design considerations and challenges, and strategies to enhance
success of Indigenous university online students.
Donna DesBiens is a Learning Designer currently working as an independent consultant. Her
learning design work is focused on online and open learning course design. Her experience
includes designing and teaching Adult Education courses on Collaborative Team Learning and
Diversity in Adult Education at the University of Calgary, and doing instructional design at the
Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Thompson Rivers University. Her recent projects
include research and presentations on culturally responsive online learning design, multimodal
teaching and learning, and learning-centred pedagogy in assessment.
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 2
This article presents evidence-based guidelines to inform culturally responsive online learning
design in higher education. Intercultural understanding is now a recognized core learning
outcome in a large majority of Canadian public universities; however, supporting design
methodology is underdeveloped, especially in online contexts. Our search for valid
intercultural learning design criteria began with two questions: What is the research evidence
for learning design practices that support intercultural learning? In what ways do current
course design rubrics address intercultural learning? For answers, first we explored recent
literature reviews, articles, books, professional discourse on cultural aspects of learning, and
the related internationalization and Indigenous literatures on formal learning. Next, we
examined three course design rubrics commonly used in Canada to identify practice supports
and gaps in relation to the literature. Various research-indicated supports are present in these
rubrics; however, major gaps include critical and holistic pedagogies, explicit intercultural
learning outcomes, and intentional diversity group work. The proposed guidelines synthesize
key research-indicated supports for intercultural learning and show how they can be integrated
in core online course design components. The guidelines present a base for online design
methodology to support intercultural learning and enable formative evaluation of pedagogy,
learning activity, and assessment applications.
Keywords: online learning design, intercultural learning, Indigenization, internationalization,
critical discourse, engaged pedagogies
In today’s connected world, intercultural understanding is recognized as core learning, and all
Canadian universities are advised to “integrate an international, global and/or intercultural
dimension into…teaching, research and service functions” (AUCC 2014, 3; Knight 2004, 9).
Canada is one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world, with over 200 immigration-
based ethnicities and home languages, and a growing Aboriginal population, as 2011 census
data shows (Statistics Canada (StatCan 2016), as well as a boom in international students in its
universities (AUCC, 2014). As most Canadian students complete their post-secondary
education in Canada, internationalization-at-home strategies, which include online learning, are
seen as a crucial means to develop intercultural and global learning (AUCC 2014). With key
aims to develop “global citizens with attributes such as openness to, and understanding of,
other worldviews, empathy for people with different backgrounds and experience to one’s own,
the capacity to value diversity, and respect for indigenous [sic] peoples and knowledge”
(Ricketts and Humphries 2015), initiatives need to be based in an ethical approach as well as
supporting national economic goals (Canadian Bureau of International Education [CBIE]
2013). While intercultural learning is critical for all students in Canadian universities, it’s
important to distinguish between internationalization and Indigenization components of
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 3
intercultural learning. Knight’s definition of internationalization (cited above) is widely
accepted as a broad guideline. Leask (2012, 5) adds that internationalization also includes “the
incorporation of an international and intercultural dimension into the content of the
curriculum” and provides a rich set of resources on practical implementation across the
disciplines. In contrast, Indigenization of the curriculum in Canada, and elsewhere, must take
into account the history of colonization, and its continuing effects, as the starting point for
intercultural understanding between settlers, visitors, and Indigenous peoples. Indigenous
leaders living and working in Canada have spoken eloquently (Smith 2012) on vital aspects of
Indigenizing the academy. While this is a complex issue, one encapsulation is that
“Indigenization is the process of infusing Aboriginal knowledge and perspective into the
structural layers of an institution (Camosun College 2016). We will further address key
differences and complementary approaches between internationalization and Indigenization in
intercultural learning in our literature review.
Definition of Terms
There are many definitions of culture across the disciplines. Three particular definitions
resonate for us in thinking about culturally responsive online learning design. First, the
anthropological view is that culture is an evolving socially-constructed reality based on shared
values, ideas, concepts and rules of behaviour (Hudelson 2004). Second, the pluralist view
recognizes there is as much diversity within cultural groups as between them, that people may
belong to multiple cultures, and that cultures are ever changing (Ess and Sudweeks 2006).
Difference “is relational, fluid, multiple and contextual, therefore must be thought of in
complex ways” (James 2000, 21). Third, with the rise of the Internet in formal education,
informal learning networks and social media, online learning is now a social and cultural
phenomenon in its own right (Goodfellow and Hewling 2005). Researchers concur that Fine’s
concept of idiocultures, i.e. unique, small group realities constructed on a “system of shared
knowledge, beliefs, behaviours, customs and experiences,” captures the evanescent nature of
online learning cultures (Goodfellow 2008; Gunawardena 2014, 84).
Intercultural learning is “learning that leads to the development of intercultural competence and
increased awareness of one’s own and other cultural preferences” (Garson 2013). It involves
developing knowledge of diverse cultural worldviews and sensitive, competent interaction
abilities across cultural contexts (Bennett 2009). Sensitive, competent interaction depends on
attitudes of respect, openness, and curiosity; as well as critical reflection, listening, empathy,
and other relational skills (Deardorff 2006, 2009). Further, effective intercultural learning
requires direct experience of differences in supportive contexts to develop the necessary
awareness, attitudes and relational skills (Thompson and Cuseo 2012). It also depends on
creating culturally safe learning environments, which involves sharing power and supporting
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 4
equal engagement between different worldviews (National Aboriginal Health Organization
The concept of learning design emerged in response to significant changes in design needs and
standards for a digital age and global knowledge economy (Beetham and Sharpe 2007 as cited
in Cross and Conole 2009). We need to redesign traditional courses and programs for new
learning environments (Bates 2015). For example, embedding and assessing the core
competencies of intercultural understanding, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, and
digital literacies is now expected. In design for learning, the focus shifts from instructional
inputs to learner experience, activities, and what students actually learn to inform effective
design and teaching. Key aims include making design more explicit to facilitate reuse and
adaptation of teaching and learning activities that address course redesign challenges, and to
embrace plural pedagogies that encompass diverse cultural perspectives (Dalziel et al. 2013).
Intercultural understanding is a recognized core learning outcome in most Canadian
universities (AUCC 2014); however, supporting design methodology is underdeveloped,
especially for online contexts. Our search for valid design criteria began with exploring recent
literature reviews, books, articles, and professional discourse on cultural aspects of learning,
and the related literature on internationalization and Indigenization in both online and face-to-
face learning contexts. Despite little direct research focus on intercultural learning, clear
themes surfaced in the body of literature that offer useful guidance for learning design and
potential research directions.
Cultural Aspects of Learning
To date there is little research on cultural aspects of online learning (Zawacki-Richter and
Anderson 2014), or on intercultural and global learning outcomes other than in study abroad
contexts (Garson 2013). However, the existing literature reflects a consensus that participatory
constructivism, as expressed in engaged pedagogies, which highlight learner agency,
experiential learning, group work and learning communities, supports learning in culturally
diverse groups by valuing both individual experience and multiple perspectives (Battiste 2002;
Gunawardena, Wilson and Nolla 2003; Gunawardena 2014; Thompson and Cuseo 2012). For
example, Battiste (2002) identifies experiential, relational, and self-directed learning, and
variety in learning methods as critical for Canadian Indigenous learners. Similarly,
Gunawardena et al. (2003) recommend variety and choice in learning methods, materials, and
activities, as well as explicit recognition of cultural diversity, and facilitation of relationship
building to support learning in multicultural groups. Thompson and Cuseo (2012) state that
effective intercultural learning requires direct experience of differences in supportive contexts
to enable development of cultural awareness, appreciation of difference, empathy and
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 5
communication skills. They propose support requires culturally competent facilitation, which
includes modelling value for diversity, intentional group work, guided self and peer
assessment, and assuring equal participation opportunities in cooperative learning and
occasional consensus collaborative learning activities. Appropriate preparation is also
recognized as a key support for learning in culturally diverse groups to prevent reinforcing
stereotypes and biases (Allport 1954; Pettigrew and Tropp 1993; Sindanus et al. 2008 as cited
in Garson 2013). In support of this view, in recent action research to enhance intercultural
learning among 70 culturally diverse upper level undergraduates, Reid and Garson (2014)
found that instructor explicit valuing of diversity, student awareness-raising of communication
styles and team expectations before forming intentionally diverse groups, and implementing
guided team charter, self, and peer assessment components resulted in a strong positive shift in
pre and post measures of attitudes about group work for two-thirds of the participants.
On the other hand, the research also shows that the common constructivist expectation for
critical debate does not always translate well across cultures, particularly for students learning
in non-native languages in online contexts (Gunawardena et al. 2003; Gunawardena 2014).
Exploring this issue, Gunawardena (2014) reports findings that learners from Mexico and Sri
Lanka avoided open debate and instead chose to use negotiation and consensus-building
approaches to meet online academic discussion expectations. Interestingly, the researchers also
found the Sri Lankan participants spontaneously engaged in heated debate in an informal
online ‘café’ forum. Gunawardena (91) suggests online design calls for “a delicate balance of
activities,” including use of alternative discourse genres, informal and formal forums, and
audio-visual media to add social context, to support diverse learner comfort levels, yet also
challenge them to develop learning capacities that will help them function in a global society.
Another group of researchers argues that using national frameworks to analyze culture in
learning is problematic given the multiple diversities within cultures and research database
limitations (Ess and Sudweeks 2006). In this research stream, the focus is on exploring how
institutional practices in design, pedagogies, and technologies influence online learning
cultures, rather than ethnocultural differences per se. For example, Hewling (2005, 352), using
critical discourse analysis, observed a common lack of understanding of norms for the
authority to ‘speak’ in online forums among culturally diverse graduate students. She suggests
all participants had “to negotiate a new cultural landscape” mediated by tacit expectations of
online discussion. In related research, Goodfellow and Hewling (2005, 7), observed greatly
reduced participation in online discussion among separate cohorts of UK and Australian
graduate students, when participation was voluntary versus required. They suggest required
participation has become a cultural narrative that “shapes both the ideology and practices of
community” in assumptions that participation equates to collaboration, and that everyone
benefits from collaborative learning. They also note compulsory participation is at odds with
the constructivist aim of learner agency and recommend critical reappraisal of this practice. In
Canada, Schwier and Seaton (2013) found similar online participation differences between
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 6
formal learning that requires participation and voluntary informal environments. To sustain
voluntary participation, they recommend facilitating emotional connections by creating spaces
for casual, personal, learner-directed conversations and topics that spark shared interest, as well
as engaging critical thinking in formal discussions with well-crafted questions.
Gunawardena (2014) supports the notion of online learning culture as negotiated, but maintains
that addressing ethnocultural differences is still important because enculturation in languages,
ethical perspectives, pedagogies, and technologies different from the dominant education
culture can present learning barriers for many students. She also states Hall’s concept of high
and low context communication is still relevant. These views are supported by research
findings that indicate cultural communication preferences and patterns are reflected in
technology-mediated learning. For example, telelecture predomiminates in Asian e-learning
while Web 2.0 learning is prominent in Western countries (Latchem and Jung 2010 as cited in
Latchem 2014). Similarly, differential cultural uses of graphics to represent human presence
and values in Web design are consistent with Hall’s high and low context communication
concepts (Würtz 2004 as cited in Ess and Sudweeks 2006).
Gunawardena (2014) is far from alone in voicing concern about bias. Western dominant culture
bias in educational ethics, worldviews, pedagogies, and content is well recognized (Campbell
and Schwier 2014; Dalziel et al. 2013; Garson 2013; Ghosh and Abdi 2013; Gunawardena et
al. 2003; Kirkness and Barnhardt 2001; Pidgeon 2008).
To raise awareness of bias, Gunawardena et al. (2003) propose we ask: Whose ideas are being
shared? How does this affect learners from ‘other’ cultures? The internationalization and
Indigenization literatures offer an answer to these questions in their convergence on the value
of critical and relational pedagogies to address bias and support intercultural learning. Until
the 1990s, mainstream adult education theory presented independent (self-directed) learning as
the highest developmental goal, and relational (other-connected) learning as a stepping-stone in
group learning contexts (Mackeracher 2004). Transformative learning, i.e. “transforming
frames of reference through critical reflection of [sic] assumptions, validating contested beliefs
through discourse, taking action on one’s reflective insight, and critically assessing it”
(Mezirow 1997, 11), was first presented as a way to foster independent learning. In contrast,
Roby Kidd, a Canadian adult education pioneer and early advocate for marginalized groups
(Cochrane et al. 1986), described the 3Rs of good learning as relevancy, relationship, and
responsibility (Kidd 1960, as cited in Mackeracher 2004). According to Mackeracher, Kidd
defined relationship in terms of how current learning connects to prior knowledge, its relevance
to learner life contexts, and learner need for a sense of belonging in connection to other
learners and the facilitator. By the 2000s, feminist, Indigenous, cross-cultural and other
critical theorists, addressing the perspectives of marginalized groups, reclaimed relational and
situated learning as valid ways of knowing (Mackeracher 2004). Critical pedagogy engages
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 7
critical reflection and dialogue on value choices, power, knowledge and history, and
considered social action:
“Education has to be seen as more than a credential or pathway to a job. It has to be
viewed as crucial to understanding and overcoming the current crisis of agency,
politics, and historical memory faced by many young people today…The challenge is…
to make the world a more human dwelling place...[by encouraging] compassion, care
for the other, the radical imagination, a democratic vision, and a passion for justice”
(Giroux 2015, 10:21 - 13:08).
Internationalization at Home
In Canada, the early research shows that Canadian student avoidance of course work with
international students is a significant barrier to intercultural learning (CBIE 2013; Garson
2013). The CBIE (2013, 35) survey of 1509 international students reports that, while most
were satisfied with their educational experience, most also “found it challenging to develop
meaningful friendships with Canadians,” and about 20% reported experiencing racial or
cultural discrimination. The CBIE recommends pedagogies that enhance participation and
extensive intercultural training. Similarly, Garson’s (2013) survey of 178 upper level
undergraduates in two internationalized universities in BC, using a validated assessment
instrument, found almost all students minimized cultural differences and had little insight into
dominant culture privilege, yet saw themselves as having greater intercultural awareness. The
students also reported few academic intercultural and global learning opportunities. Garson
recommends educators familiarize with developmental intercultural learning models, critical
pedagogy, and intentional design of experiential learning with ‘others.’ In Garson’s view,
critical pedagogy offers students and educators a way to question “their positions and identities
within globalizing processes” that can help “move beyond surface culture and tokenism” in
intercultural learning (33). Odgers (2006) too advises that guided critical discourse is necessary
to stimulate the transformational learning that builds intercultural competence; curricular add-
ons and infusion of diverse perspectives alone are insufficient. Mezirow’s (1997) definition of
transformational learning still stands; however, the current understanding is that relational
learning is equally important to individual learning, and in fact, a critical component to enable
Indigenization of Education in Canada
In the early research, Kirkness and Barnhardt presented the elegant 4Rs model. This model
states that Indigenous students need “a higher education system that respects them for who
they are, that is relevant to their view of the world, that offers reciprocity in their relationships
with others, and that helps them exercise responsibility over their own lives” by critical
analysis of power relations. The goal is transformation of relationships (2001, 1, italics in
original). Extending this research perspective, Pidgeon (2008) affirmed the 4Rs model, as well
as experiential and holistic learning to build ‘human being’ as well as professional skills. She
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recommended educators let go of deficit thinking and call on students' cultural backgrounds in
a positive way. She also identified critical discourse as the pathway to validate alternative ways
of knowing in the curriculum, and thus enable transformative learning. Similarly, the National
Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO 2008, 12) articulated a “need for culturally safe
learning to improve educational outcomes for Aboriginal students.” Cultural safety refers to
individual experience of respect, inclusion, and empowerment. It involves acknowledging
one’s own cultural lenses, recognizing diversity within cultural groups, sharing power and
creating “an environment of equal engagement between different ways of knowing” (NAHO
2008, 13). Essentially, this is a description of critical pedagogy in action.
In recent research on teaching global Indigenous studies, Augustus (2015) proposed a
“knowledge liasons” model as a starting point to address the challenge of multiple Indigenous,
student-centred and direct instruction pedagogies in the classroom. In this model, the instructor
is seen as a ‘mediator’ rather than an ‘expert,’ with a crucial responsibility to organize and
interpret large amounts of information in “manageable pieces and comprehensible ways” (9).
She states that Indigenous pedagogies are as “varied and numerous as the cultures themselves”
(4), but encompass five common themes: place/land; community and kinship; language;
holistic pedagogies; and decolonization. In Augustus’ view, knowledge and skills are equally
important in Indigenous studies, and student-centred pedagogies that focus on skill
development versus content learning are problematic. She sees direct instruction as the most
appropriate way to transfer consensus-based knowledge on epistemologies, the history of
colonization, and methodologies, which is required to support awareness and interpersonal skill
Other voices have expanded on the nature of holistic pedagogy. Culturally responsive
education must address emotional, physical and spiritual, as well as cognitive dimensions of
learning (Battiste 2002; Cappon 2008). In this context, the Indigenous view of spirituality “is
about creating an environment or space where people bring their whole selves, their stories,
their voice, and their culture to their learning” (Battiste 2007 as cited in Kovacs 2009, 8).
Holistic Learning in Mainstream Education Culture
Holistic pedagogy presents a big challenge for mainstream Western education, which still
focuses on cognitive aspects of learning to the near neglect of affective aspects, although the
powerful role of affect in personal, social, and intercultural learning is well recognized (Battiste
2002; Deardorff 2009; Gunawardena 2014; Neuman and Friedman 2010; Pidgeon 2008; Stone
2006; Thompson and Cuseo 2012). To date, spiritual aspects of learning are rarely recognized
in mainstream university teaching and learning. However, there is recognition that, at
minimum, effective intercultural communication requires concern for others to support ethical
versus exploitive interactions (Stone 2006). Beyond the basics, “quality multicultural
education must include the lessons of pluralism” (Ghosh and Abdi 2013, 84); for example,
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 9
respectful open dialogue about differences to negotiate a balance of interests, which requires
awareness of personal and ‘other’ values, as well as strong interpersonal communication skills.
In early mainstream social work research on holistic learning, Neuman Allen and Friedman
(2010) state the affective domain is likely the most challenging teaching area because it
integrates cognition, behaviour and emotions. Assessment of personal soft skills is also
perceived as sensitive, opening up concerns about subjective grading. However, in the human
services, values, emotions, and relational learning are critical, as they are in intercultural
learning. Neuman Allen and Friedman proposed a conceptual model that synthesizes research
on values learning with the well-known cognitive, affective and psychomotor taxonomies, as a
starting point to integrate holistic learning in the curriculum.
The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U 2015) VALUE rubrics also
offer a promising avenue to address holistic learning assessment challenges, while supporting
research-indicated needs for intercultural learning. Grounded in transformative learning, social
justice and engagement research, the VALUE rubrics were developed in a national American
initiative to define criteria for core 21st century learning outcomes, including intercultural and
global learning. The intercultural learning rubric describes knowledge, skill and attitudinal
criteria informed by the Bennett (2009) and Deardorff (2006; 2009) models, and focuses on
individual developmental learning. The global learning rubric includes intercultural
competence within a broader context of personal and social responsibility, ethics, identity,
politics, histories, and problem-solving approaches to complex global issues. Although
originally intended to guide program development, the VALUE rubrics have been widely used
for individual assessment (AAC&U 2015). Team assessment is recommended and adaptation
for local contexts is encouraged.
Creating culturally responsive online learning opportunities for students in the digital age
requires rethinking traditional patterns of teaching and learning for pedagogically sound
learning design in new environments. To promote intercultural learning of the requisite
knowledge, skills and attitudes in online environments, we need to embrace plural pedagogies
and make design decisions about the entire educational experience more explicit, particularly
with regard to learning outcomes, activities and pathways, assessments, technologies, and
Mainstream research reports that small group learning, “which is not of their own choosing, is
often dreaded and avoided by online learners” (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009). Common
concerns include time demands, perceptions of unequal contributions, and decision-making
conflicts (Brindley et al, 2009; University of Technology Sydney 2013). Online
communication amplifies challenges in reduced social cues, multiple forums, time lag, and
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 10
various technological issues (Dirkx and Smith 2004; Gunawardena 2014). Brindley et al. also
note that few instructors have formal learning in group facilitation skills, which can impact
student experience of group learning. Yet, there are many benefits to small group learning,
which include support for critical thinking, relational skills, and participant social enjoyment
(Brindley et al. 2009; Dirkx and Smith 2004).
The term “collaborative learning” is still often used to refer to all participatory online activities
as Goodfellow and Hewling (2005) noted. However, in online academic learning contexts,
research indicates that collaboration has different meanings for learners from different cultures
(Gunawardena 2014). We need to think critically about learning processes that actually support
the learning aims we intend to achieve to reduce group work stressors for all learners, starting
with differentiating cooperative and collaborative group work modes.
Cooperative or Collaborative Learning?
Dirkx and Smith (2004) propose we consider the nature of learning tasks to decide when to use
cooperative or collaborative learning. They see cooperative learning as appropriate to well-
defined problems that are easily dealt with by division of labour and work product compilation
strategies. In contrast, they say complex real-world problems call for collaboration, which,
according to Jonassen (1999), requires consensus decision-making that evolves from shared
understanding and construction of knowledge about problems. Dirkx and Smith (2004)
observe that negotiating consensus requires abilities to engage in both self-directed and
relational learning, which include openness to redefining one’s views in light of others’
perspectives, as well as applying knowledge to problem solving. They state this involves
developing trust, coping with conflict, and a deeper level of self-reflection about assumptions,
values, beliefs and rules of conduct than cooperative work. To address increased challenges,
Dirkx and Smith (2004) recommend instructor mentoring, tracking everyone’s collaboration
expectations, and developing program and institutional consistency in implementation of
Online Facilitation and Moderation
Brindley et al. (2009), in a longitudinal study of online graduate education cohorts found that
assessment made no discernible difference to participation in collaborative learning groups.
They suggest that while “students may have the will to participate in collaborative projects, the
skills to effectively engage in online collaboration are often lacking.” They propose learning
supports that include nurturing learner relationships, scaffolding skills, setting only relevant,
authentic teamwork tasks, providing sufficient learning time, and individualizing assessment
components. One existing support is Salmon’s (2000) well-known Five Stage Model for online
learning moderation, which provides foundational guidance on scaffolding activities to engage,
support and socialize students in academic online learning communities. This model advises
coaching on technology use at the start and progressing from structured instructor-directed
activities to student moderation of discussion and critical reflection on their learning processes.
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Flexibility, Context, and Autonomy in Open Online Learning
Open education researchers concur that designing learning environments for culturally diverse
groups needs much more research (Falconer et al. 2013). However, the existing research and
professional discourse identify flexibility, context and learner agency as critical design
Flexible learning environments allow learners to organize their own learning and develop
educational pathways based on their unique individual knowledge, experience, interests and
learning needs (Downes 2006; Scannell 2011). Flexible scheduling, with respect to time and
space, choices, and learner input into learning goals, activities, materials, and methods are key
components of culturally responsive design. For example, distributed learning can be offered in
a variety of modalities with multiple time and space configurations, including independent self-
paced, cohort-based paced, blended courses and massive open online courses (MOOCs), to suit
diverse learners’ personal commitments and schedules. Learners can access a variety of
resources such as open educational resources, and services to complete their self-developed
formal or informal learning goals. Increasingly, students are being encouraged to shift away
from institutional dictates, where possible and desired, and take greater personal control of
their learning as co-creators of core learning components such as learning outcomes and
learning activities, grounded in their own cultural perspectives and contexts.
Context is recognized as powerful force in determining learning success or failure (Pannekoek
2012; Tessmer and Richey 1997; Wiley 2013). Early proponents Tessmer and Richey (1997)
state that orienting, instructional, and transfer contexts, together with related learner,
environmental, and organizational factors must be investigated for successful design. In their
model, learner factors include prior experience, role, and task utility perceptions.
Environmental factors include social support, schedules, and transfer opportunities.
Organizational factors include the learning culture, supports, and transfer culture. Pannekoek
(2012) observes that people learn differently depending on their culture, so responsive online
design must integrate supports in courses for local cultural content, pedagogical context,
technology and quality assurance. Wiley (2013) recognizes the problem of decontextualized
learning, i.e. the more context open educational resources (OER) have, the more likely the
success of learning, yet the less context they have, the easier they are to reuse. He suggests the
use of open licences that permit adaptation can help resolve the reuse paradox. The
recommendations made by Dalziel et al. (2013) to make design more explicit and transparent
to enable local purposing of materials can also help to address this challenge.
Many educators such as Tapscott (2009) and Weller (2011) allude to the potential and promise
of the Internet era and emerging electronic technologies for innovative higher education
models and practices geared towards a net generation. --The Web 2.0 explosion of user-
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 12
generated content in virtual education, and social media communities is generating vast
amounts of high-quality content and new possibilities for engaging, interactive learning
opportunities and research directions. However, responsive design must recognize that
culturally diverse learners in different geographical, socio-economic and political situations
have different levels of access and infrastructure, creating an uneven technology playing field
that has broad cultural implications for acquiring and sharing knowledge in online
communities. There are also varying cultural perceptions about the purpose and value of
commonly used ‘educational’ technologies (Gunawardena 2014; Latchem 2014). Digital
literacy, readiness, motivation and experiences also vary from person to person. Some learners
and instructors are comfortable with now common educational technologies such as wikis,
blogs, social software, video games, simulations, mobile devices and learning management
systems. Others are unfamiliar with these technologies or have other reservations about using
these tools and methods in teaching and learning.
Bates (2015) also draws attention to issues of privacy and security in online environments and
poses questions to help educators develop ethical guidelines on technological choices in
design. These questions focus on how to educate oneself on legal and professional obligations
to maintain confidentiality of student information, and honour institutional policies and
Research-Indicated Supports for Intercultural Learning
Intercultural learning involves developing knowledge of diverse cultural worldviews, including
one’s own; attitudes and values of respect, openness, and curiosity; and relational skills that
include critical reflection, listening and empathy (Deardorff 2006, 2009). Further, effective
intercultural learning requires direct experiences of cultural differences in supportive contexts
to develop the necessary knowledge, attitudes and skills (CBIE 2013; Garson 2013;
Gunawardena et al. 2003; Thompson and Cuseo 2012). Critical supports include creating
culturally safe learning environments, which involves power sharing to support equal
engagement between people who hold different worldviews (NAHO 2008; Kirkness and
Barnhardt 2001; Pidgeon 2008) and culturally competent facilitation (Thompson and Cuseo
2012). Important power sharing supports include inviting learner definition of personal
learning goals relevant to their life contexts, feedback on learning experiences and contribution
to culturally relevant learning materials (Downes 2006; Pannekoek 2012; Scannell 2011). To
develop cultural competence, educators are advised to familiarize with developmental
intercultural learning, critical discourse and intentional design models (Garson 2013). The
research also indicates that an intentional blend of plural pedagogies that include critical,
engaged and holistic pedagogies, as well as direct instruction, are necessary for effective
intercultural learning (Augustus 2015; Dalziel et al. 2013, Gunawardena 2014; Pidgeon 2008).
Explicit intercultural learning outcomes, assessment of intercultural learning, and learning
resources and activities that address diverse cultural perspectives, needs, interests and
preferences are also crucial (AUCC 2014; AAC&U 2009). Intentional group work is required
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 13
to enable experiential learning of ‘other’ cultures (Garson 2013; Thompson and Cuseo 2012),
and group work must be carefully designed to ensure sufficient learning supports (Brindley et
al. 2009; Dirkx and Smith 2004).
Cultural Criteria in Course Design Rubrics
We began our search for valid learning design criteria asking: What learning design practices
does the research indicate support intercultural learning? In what ways do current course
design rubrics address intercultural learning? Our literature review uncovered a wide range of
evidence-based supports for intercultural learning, which include the use of multiple
pedagogies; explicit intercultural learning outcomes and assessment; intentional group work;
attention to cultural safety; variety in discourse genres; multimodal learning concepts; learner
input into curricular decisions; and flexible learning choices. Now, we examine three course
design rubrics often used to support quality in post-secondary online course design in Canada
to identify design practice supports and gaps in relation to the literature. These three rubrics are
the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric, the e-Campus Alberta eLearning Rubric, and the
Canadian Recommended E-Learning Guidelines (CanREGs).
Quality Matters (QM) Rubric
This rubric, developed in the USA, is based on instructional systems design models, learning
research, and a faculty peer review process (Quality Matters™ Overview 2014). It outlines
standards for eight core design components: course overview; learning objectives; assessment;
materials; learner interaction and engagement; technology; learner support; and accessibility.
The most recent edition of this rubric is accessible only with a paid subscription; however the
2011-13 edition can be viewed in the Guide to Quality in Online Learning (Butcher and
eCampusAlberta eLearning Rubric 2.0
The eCampusAlberta Rubric (2015) is informed by learning research, success benchmarks for
online distance education set by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, Sloan Online
Learning Consortium and the Quality Matters organization, and input from Alberta public post-
secondary consortium members. The rubric describes ‘essential, excellent and exemplary’
standards for seven core design components: course information, organization, pedagogy,
writing, resources, web design and technology. The essential standards focus on the minimum
criteria required to enable successful learning in any online course. The excellent and
exemplary standards include criteria that enhance the quality of learner experiences and/or
increase accessibility for all learners.
Canadian Recommended E-Learning Guidelines (CanREGs)
The CanREGS, developed in consultation with education provider and consumer groups in
Canada and beyond, promote Canadian learning values and flexible applications for diverse
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 14
circumstances (Barker 2002). These guidelines pay more attention to student needs and
expectations than other quality standards (Jung 2012 as cited in Latchem 2014). For example,
the guidelines include criteria that students acquire knowledge that is transferrable between
learning and work, course credits or credentials that are recognized locally, nationally and
internationally, and that they are invited to contribute to curricular decisions.
The three design rubrics describe a similar set of core course components and expectations for
clarity, completeness, relevance, currency, alignment, and academic standards in core
components. All three are also grounded in learning-centred, social constructivist approaches,
although their criteria vary in emphasis and level of explicit description of learning aims,
methods and activities. The 2011-13 QM Rubric (2011-13) emphasizes active learning. The
literature review informing its development (Shattuck et al. 2013) endorses the Community of
Inquiry (COI) model, which comprises three essential, interdependent elements of cognitive,
social and teaching presences, to promote both social and cognitive learning, and a sense of
learning community belonging. In comparison, the eCampusAlberta Rubric explicitly links
student, teacher, peer and content interaction to deeper content understanding, and at enhanced
levels, its learning community criteria include guided peer collaboration and guest speakers to
develop critical thinking, communication, networking, cooperation, teamwork, negotiation, and
consensus-building skills. The CanREGs criteria similarly promote active learning, building on
learner strengths, and student interaction with peers, faculty, and others in the larger
community to develop communication, problem solving, collaboration, and self-directed
The QM Rubric does not explicitly address cultural aspects of learning; however criteria for
variety in content perspectives and assessments, learner interaction, and use of accessible
technologies might be extended to support culturally responsive design. On the other hand, the
eCampusAlberta and CanREGs criteria promote variety in all course learning activities and
instructional strategies, for the explicit purpose of meeting diverse learner interests, needs and
preferences. Also, the eCampusAlberta Rubric presents plain language criteria that address the
English language dominance challenge in part, and other criteria that invite learner
contributions to course resources and open space for student cultural representations. This
rubric also includes criteria for Universal Design for Learning (UDL), (National Center on
Universal Design for Learning 2014), concepts of multiple means of engagement, content
representation and student expression, and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which
are often overlooked in design practice. The eCampusAlberta and CanREGs rubrics explicitly
address cultural aspects of learning in criteria for balanced, bias-free content in relation to
culture, ethnicity, race and other dimensions of diversity, as well as authentic learning
activities. In this area, the CanREGs specify culturally sensitive content, and the
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 15
eCampusAlberta Rubric identifies inclusive language to promote an atmosphere of respect,
equality, and incorporation of relevant societal and cultural groups.
Intercultural Learning Criteria in Current Course Design Rubrics
The three course design rubrics we examined all describe essential criteria to support diverse
learners in online courses through variety in course components and use of accessible
technologies. The eCampusAlberta Rubric and CanREGs extend supports for diverse learners
in their respective criteria for plain language, UDL, recognition of diverse learning contexts,
authentic learning activities, and inviting student input in resources. These two rubrics also
directly support research recommendations for intercultural learning in criteria for culturally
sensitive content to promote attitudes of respect and equality, and explicit learning aims to
develop interpersonal skills, such as cooperation, problem-solving collaboration, negotiation
and consensus building. The e-Campus Alberta Rubric also suggests guided peer interaction as
a main avenue for learning these skills. The CanREGs criteria for ensuring portable learning
credentials are laudable, and worthy of serious development at program and institutional levels.
However, none of these rubrics encompass research recommendations that crucial supports for
intercultural learning include critical and holistic pedagogies; explicit intercultural learning
outcomes, and assessments that address cultural knowledge, affective learning, relational skills,
and intentional diversity group work. Nor do they address educator cultural competence.
Culturally Responsive Online Design Guidelines
Our Culturally Responsive Design Guidelines (Table I) synthesize the most critical research-
indicated supports for intercultural learning and show how they can be integrated in the core
online course design components of pedagogies, learning outcomes, assessment, online
facilitation, resources, and scheduling. The guidelines focus only on intercultural learning
criteria and are intended for use in conjunction with online course design rubrics, such as the e-
Campus Alberta rubric, that address the full range of core course components.
[Insert Table I: Culturally Responsive Online Design Guidelines near here]
The guidelines offer a starting point to develop design methodology that supports curricular
implementation of intercultural learning, which is now recognized as a core learning outcome
in a large majority of Canadian universities (AUCC, 2014). Design choices of which
intercultural learning criteria to emphasize will depend on specific disciplinary, program, and
course contexts. However, key criteria that should be addressed include a culturally safe
learning environment, explicit intercultural learning outcomes, intentional group work, and
holistic forms of assessment. We recommend use of the AAC&U VALUE intercultural and
global learning rubrics to develop scaffolded learning outcomes and assessments. The
eCampusAlberta Rubric provision of varied instructional strategies and laddered standards is
also helpful to guiding developmental implementation decisions.
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 16
Discussion and Conclusion
The proposed guidelines synthesize key research-indicated supports for intercultural learning
and show how they can be integrated in core course design components in both online and
face-to-face learning. The guidelines present a base for online design methodology to support
intercultural learning and enable formative evaluation of pedagogy, learning activity, and
Evaluation is often underemphasized in the time-pressured real world practice of curriculum
design, although it is essential to improving courses. We recommend that applications of the
proposed Culturally Responsive Online Design guidelines be well-documented, tracked and
evaluated in course design and delivery.
Explicit description of learning designs and implementation methods is necessary to
meaningful evaluation, and to supporting adaptation and reuse of teaching and learning
activities across various learning and cultural contexts. We recommend that research begin
with examining existing courses in local contexts to identify whether, and what, intercultural
learning outcomes, activities and assessments are present, and key successes and challenges.
Other productive research areas might address key intercultural learning criteria at different
points in the teaching and learning process, as outlined in the following examples.
1) Learning design: Describe and document the rationale for intercultural learning criteria
choices; planned implementation methods, and the course, program and disciplinary relevance
of design choices.
2) Course delivery: Explore instructor experience of intercultural learning design choices and
perceptions of implementation supports and challenges, particularly in holistic and critical
pedagogy applications, facilitation, assessment, and technology use.
3) Learning outcomes: Investigate learner perceptions of intercultural learning outcomes and
their experience of related learning activities and assessments. In such research, it would also
be useful to examine assessment products and performance.
4) Holistic learning applications: Explore learner experience of holistic learning in activities
and assessments that address affective and/or values learning, and perceived supports and
5) Critical discourse applications: Investigate learner experience of perspective-taking
activities, and related assessment products and performance. Such research might include a
cultural safety assessment component, for example, by exploring learner and instructor
perceptions of respect, relevance, reciprocity and responsibility in critical discourse contexts.
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 17
In today’s connected world, intercultural understanding is recognized as core learning. All
Canadian universities are advised to integrate international, global and/or intercultural
dimensions in teaching, research and service (AUCC 2014; Knight 1994, 2004) to support
learning and valuing of diverse worldviews, empathy for ‘others,’ and respect for Indigenous
peoples and knowledge (Ricketts and Humphries 2015). The early research indicates gaps in
academic intercultural and global learning opportunities (Garson 2013), pedagogies that
enhance participatory intercultural learning (CBIE 2013), and in learning design methodology
to embed, assess, and critically discuss core competencies of intercultural learning in ways that
embrace diverse cultural perspectives and knowledge sharing (Bates 2015, Dalziel et al. 2013).
In using Internet technologies to support learning, flexibility, context and learner agency,
privacy and security are critical design components (Bates 2015, Downes 2006, Gunawardena
2014, Latchem 2014; Scannell 2011, Wiley 2015).
The proposed learning design guidelines are intended to raise awareness and knowledge of
critical curriculum design and delivery supports needed to create equitable learning
environments for diverse learners. Critical discussion on the criteria outlined in the guidelines,
particularly among intercultural teams, can open avenues for improved learning experiences
and further research.
Running head: Culturally Responsive Online Learning Design: Learning at Intercultural Intersections 18
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