Running Head: EXPLORING DEMOCRATIZED ONLINE LEARNING IN UKRAINE 1
Exploring democratized digital learning and dimensions
of culture for educational transformation in Ukraine
Olena Mykhailenko, Todd Blayone, Roland van Oostveen
University of Ontario Institute of Technology
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
DEMOCRATIZED ONLINE LEARNING IN UKRAINE 2
1: Introduction (Olena)
Hello. I’m Olena Mykhailenko, a Professor of Economics and Associate Researcher at the Educational
Informatics LAB, a digital research center at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Ontario, Canada.
For most of 2016, I was a Visiting Scholar at UOIT from Kyiv National Economic University, performing
research on cross-cultural online learning. Currently, as a new Canadian resident, I am pursuing Canada-Ukraine
collaborative development projects, with several universities in Ukraine. I’ve learned that cross-cultural
cooperation between Canada and Ukraine offers significant insights into educational reform for researchers and
educators in both countries.
The project presented in this video was developed and implemented in collaboration with Todd Blayone
and Roland van Oostveen. Todd is an EILAB Researcher engaged in several studies related to digital
competencies and democratized online learning. Roland, the EILAB Director, is Associate Professor at the
Faculty of Education, primary author of the UOIT’s Fully Online Learning Community model, and co-author of
the General Technology Competency and Use framework.
This presentation is offered in five segments. We will: 1) explore the idea of democratized online
learning, 2) offer a specific democratized online learning model, 3) discuss culture as measurable values, and 4)
report on a collaborative Ukrainian online pilot course, and an accompanying research study conducted through a
UOIT-KNEU partnership. This study produced a lot of data, and we are still completing our analyses. In this
context we report on preliminary findings and reflect on the relevance of this research for educational
transformation in Ukraine.
2: What is Democratized Learning? (Todd)
“Democratized learning” is a loose boundary construct with scattered presence in the literature. As Lowey
(1990) notes, such constructs: emerge through cross-disciplinary, collaborative research, and can facilitate
scientific innovation, even though they may remain ill-defined throughout their scientific life span.
We have established five boundary markers for our “democratized learning” construct.
1. It addresses processes of learning—not learning or teaching about democracy—as is often the case,
for example, with citizenship education.
2. It functions as a response to a paradox—namely, that education is considered vital for the
development of democracy and human rights, yet, at the micro-level of learning, education tends to be
authoritarian—even in so-called developed democracies. As Bivens and Taylor (2008) observe,
traditional learning is:
premised on the assumption that students are empty vessels that need to be filled up
with information. The flow of information is one way, from teacher to students. The
DEMOCRATIZED ONLINE LEARNING IN UKRAINE 3
teacher controls the…experience, while the role of the student is to receive knowledge
passively (2008, p. 282).
Levin (2000) offers a sharper assessment, suggesting that education represents
a history of doing things to other people, supposedly for their own good. Each level in
the hierarchy of education believes it knows best what those at lower levels need to do,
and has little shyness about telling them or, just as often, forcing them (2000, p. 155).
3. A third boundary marker positions “democratized learning” within the academic discourse of
deepening democracy—as opposed to the triumphant discourse on the ascendency of democratic
nation states. As Gaventa (2006) notes, the discourse of “deepening democracy” challenges the
reduction of citizens to consumers who express preferences through market choices rather than
through critical deliberation and emancipatory praxis.
4. In our research context “democratized learning” gains strength from a social constructivist
epistemology, which foregrounds the positive, constructive power of individual experience and
5. Finally, we consider “democratized learning” in relation to digital technologies, which are construed
as potential amplifiers of human empowerment and learning, when inequalities of access and
competency are addressed.
Within the space bounded by these markers, key themes recur in our research and educational praxis in
relation to democratized learning. These include:
These recurring themes are not defining characteristics. However, they do appear to function as family
resemblances. No single set of themes are likely to characterize any particular context of democratized learning.
Indeed, some themes (e.g., freedom and collaboration) may stand in tension—and, indeed, one of our research
studies compares the dynamics of a community-centric, collaborative learning model, and individual-centric,
cooperative freedom learning model.
DEMOCRATIZED ONLINE LEARNING IN UKRAINE 4
3: What is Democratized Digital Learning? (Roland)
While the creation of ‘democratized learning’ environments is somewhat like searching for the Holy
Grail, over the past several decades there have been several attempts. Initially in WWWI environments such as the
development static web pages and hypercard stacks, a wide variety of conceptual information was made
accessible in ways that allowed individuals for search and sort information in ways that are not possible with print
documents. The arrival of content management systems (CMS) and their close cousins, the learning management
systems (LMS), allowed academics and other educational leaders to curate vast private collections of content
material, simultaneously creating new ways of publishing textbooks (now called course packs), as well as putting
pressure on traditional textbook publishers to find new business models. The content, when combined with
rudimentary LMS tools such as email, discussion boards and the like, can become a platform, such as MOOCs,
upon which limited discourse regarding ideas can be conducted by individuals who are widely dispersed from
Recently, new models intended to provide for rich discussion and interaction by large groups of
individuals are beginning to appear in the literature. The Fully Online Learning Community, FOLC, model is one
of these. Derived from the Community of Inquiry, CoI, model which preceded it, the FOLC model integrates a
Problem Based Learning (PBL) orientation situated in a fully online environment and serves as the basis for fully
online programs in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa,
Ontario, Canada. From a technology perspective, FOLC construes the digital space and enabling technological
abilities as integral to the online learning experience. Furthermore, from a communications modality perspective,
FOLC does not recognize asynchronous, text based discussion as necessarily better serving the goals of
collaborative inquiry. Rather, it draws attention to the evidence-based strengths of both synchronous and
asynchronous technologies in relation to sociocultural contexts and learning goals of particular online
communities. Moreover, FOLC recognizes the profound strengths of synchronous video-conferencing
technologies for allowing members of an online community to experience community members as embodied
human beings. This supports key facets of the social presence (SP) aspects, including the building of mutual
respect for the identity and cultural differences among community members; the development of trust among
community members; and the useof emotionally rich and responsive communication via intonation, facial
expression, and body language.
Additionally, FOLC engenders a democratized and emancipatory control orientation, coupled with a
constructivist, epistemological perspective. This has significant implications for FOLC’s operationalization of
teaching presence (TP) and cognitive presence (CP). With respect to TP, FOLC distributes leadership
responsibilities, and collapses facilitation dynamics into the broader functioning of social and cognitive presence.
This implies that all members of a community share power, control, and responsibility respecting the nature and
direction of collaborative learning; including elements such as selection of relevant information sources, choice of
DEMOCRATIZED ONLINE LEARNING IN UKRAINE 5
preferred digital devices and learning environments, negotiation of outcomes, and participation in processes of
assessment. Within this democratized context, the professional educator, like a servant-leader, pursues the
functional responsibility of empowerment, and replaces directive communication with communication that
promotes mutual exploration, questioning, and challenge. With respect to CP, FOLC does not privilege any
particular model of inquiry. Given that the existence of a canonical “scientific method” is highly contested, in
FOLC, the establishment of credibility criteria for judging knowledge claims becomes a collaborative community
endeavour. Consistent with this epistemology, FOLC fosters cognitive development through individual
knowledge construction and collaborative discourse, rather than through the development of cognitive outcomes
established by professional educators’ direction and control.
4: Democratized Digital Learning in Context (Olena)
Learning is always shaped by socio-cultural context. Vygotsky (1978) and Leontiev (1981),
representatives of Soviet psychological school, interpreted the socio-cultural environment not as a "factor" but as
a source of an individual’s cognitive development. Similarly, the American Dewey (1910), considered the
individual-experiential, and the social-cultural aspects of learning to be organically related. And yet, much social-
scientific, educational research is performed with little regard for cultural context.
My personal experience of growing up in Ukraine, and now, being married to a Canadian and living in
two countries, convinces our educational systems driven by cultural values. But, as researchers, how can we
address culture as a set of manageable variables? To answer this question, we explored several approaches, and
gravitated towards the empirical model of Geert Hofstede, as presented in Cultures Consequences (2001), which,
continually resists criticism owing to it broad correlational value and predictive power. Hofstede’s perspective is
summed up by his phrase: “Culture is collective programming of the mind.” Despite the diversity of observable
cultural expression, he argues that common foundational values emerge in every society as a response to universal
social problems, and these values function as predispositions to behavior. Moreover, he suggests that cultural
values have three key characteristics: they are: 1) shared, 2) transmitted between generations, and 3) organized.
This organization is reflected in his categorization of cultural values into key dimensions—five of which
are shown in this slide—measured using a self-report instrument, primarily at level of nations, with results
compared using 100-point indices. These five dimensions are as follows:
Power-Distance: The extent to which the less powerful members of society accept inequality in power
Individualism vs. Collectivism: The extent to which individuals are integrated into groups. In collectivist
societies, the goals and wellbeing of the group are generally valued over those of the individual. Moreover, one’s
identity is largely defined in relation to the collective.
DEMOCRATIZED ONLINE LEARNING IN UKRAINE 6
Uncertainty Avoidance: This scale measures tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. It relates to the way
people deal with unknown situations, unexpected events, and the stress of change.
Masculinity vs. Femininity: This dimension relates to levels of stereotypical masculine values, such as
assertiveness, ambition, power, and competitiveness, as opposed to stereotypical feminine values, focused on
building and maintaining social relationships.
Long-term Orientation vs. Short-term Orientation. Short-term oriented cultures depend heavily upon
tradition, and view social change with suspicion. Long-term oriented cultures are more pragmatic.
These dimensions offer significant explanatory and predictive value for cross-cultural research,
especially when comparing rather homogenous cultural groupings. Of course, learning contexts vary, and online-
learning researchers are constantly exploring additional culture models and dimensions.
5: A Canada-Ukraine Pilot Learning and Research Project (Todd)
Within the framework of an institutional partnership between UOIT and Kyiv National Economic
University, and having received ethical approval at both institutions, a Ukrainian, fully online graduate course,
and research study was implemented as a pilot project. The driving question was: Might social-constructivist
online learning, like that implemented at UOIT, offer an effective model for transforming education at the micro-
level in Ukraine? The initial research design, presented in this slide, explored three sets of variables.
First, we looked at digital competencies as measured by the international, General Technology
Competency and Use survey tool. This online application asks individuals how frequently, and with what level of
confidence, they perform certain activities—across four dimensions of interaction: technical, informational, social
and computational—and with a specific hardware device—desktop or laptop, smartphone and tablet. Frequency
of activity, measured on a 5-point Likert scale, is considered a good indicator of competency on the assumption
that transferable procedural knowledge is reinforced through repeated use. Confidence (or contextual “self-
efficacy”), also measured on a 5-point scale, is considered an important indicator of an individual’s motivational
capacity to explore novel situations and address problems (Bandura, 1993). Digital competency levels, measured
by these indicators, function as mediators and moderators of successful collaborative learning in fully online
Second, we used Yoo’s (2011) CVSCALE to measure cultural values at the individual level—thus
addressing problems of validity with Hofstede’s own Value Survey instrument. The CVSCALE measures values
across five dimensions—power distance, individualism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity and long-term
orientation—although, based on our literature review, were focused primarily on the first four.
Third, we selected the Community of Inquiry (Garrison, 2011) model for exploring the quality of
collaborative learning. As a process model, the CoI does not focus on outcomes. Rather, it addresses three sets of
learning transactions called: Social Presence (SP), Cognitive Presence (CP) and Teaching Presence (TP). These
DEMOCRATIZED ONLINE LEARNING IN UKRAINE 7
presences, which are overlapping and synergistic, are vital to the effective functioning of an online-learning
community. For example, open communication (a facet of Social Presence) builds trust, which in turn supports
higher cognitive interactions such as offering constructive feedback. Both the quantity and quality of CoI
interactions were measured through a validated survey instrument administered at the end of a course. We also
produced multi-perspectival, audio-video recordings of synchronous online sessions to facilitate discourse
Finally, as an exploratory study, we collected open-ended participant feedback, and interview data after
the course. Additionally, a secondary stream of research, focused on cross-cultural teaching, was initiated by Dr.
6-7: Findings A Canada-Ukraine Pilot Project (Todd and Olena)
Based on the General Technology Competency and Use framework (shown top left), and using an
international online survey application (shown bottom left), digital competency levels of course participants were
analyzed as part of a larger study of 244 students and professors from KNEU in 2015. A full analysis was
conducted along four dimensions, and submitted for peer-review publication (Blayone et al., 2016).
Here, we provide one table of statistical findings related to Informational competency, which includes
searching, finding, evaluating, selecting and using online information. A high level of informational competency
is a core requirement for effective social-constructivist online learning.
Data shows that competency levels fall below the general readiness mark of 3.0, with only professors
achieving this mark for accessing online articles. In fact, for this activity, we find a significant difference
(Sig.=.02) between the MeanRank of professors (157.5) and students (119.4). These findings align with our
observations of synchronous sessions in which many students struggled to engage fully in activities requiring self-
directed information access.
Importantly, we found technical and social competencies to be higher. However, epistemological
competencies—relating to effective concept mapping, and data visualization, manipulation and analysis—was
very low, and thus, require attention.
With respect to cultural values data, we created a group profile of course participants, and related it to
Hofstede’s national profiles of Ukraine and Canada. There were notable findings. The Power Distance of the
course participants measured 2.5 times lower than that of Ukraine, and even slightly lower than the Canadian
average. This suggests student preference for non-hierarchical learning. Related to this, Individualism measured
much higher than the Ukraine average, although still below the Canadian average. Therefore, it seems that
although collectivist values are present, students have adopted a more individualistic mindset. This presents an
opportunity to encourage individual expression and respectful competition (e.g., game-based activity). The
Uncertainty Avoidance level indicates that respect for tradition remains strong. However, levels fall well below
DEMOCRATIZED ONLINE LEARNING IN UKRAINE 8
the Ukrainian average. This suggests greater openness for entrepreneurial and risk-taking behaviour than the
earlier generation socialized with Soviet ideology.
In summary, the cultural profile of this group across three dimensions appears closer to Canadian than
Ukrainian values. This finding aligns, for example, with the work of Sviatenko and Vinogradov (2014). The only
significant exception is the high commitment to long-term orientation, which suggests a tendency towards delayed
gratification—which may, in fact, offers competitive advantages over some forms of short-term thinking.
We finish by highlighting key themes in student learning reflections collected at the end of the course.
Twelve responses were received from the 29 students. Using an emergent coding method, the responses were
tagged, and the number of students expressing the theme, counted. The most popular topics relate to freedom of
speech, opportunities for self-expression, reduction of authoritarian relationships, and digital skills.
8: Next Steps, Future Opportunities (Todd)
Having conducted a fully online pilot course at Kyiv National Economic University, and in view of our
preliminary research findings, we see significant potential for democratized, social-constructivist learning
transforming the educational experiences of students and professors. At the same time, we recognize that for
democratized digital learning to have a broad transformative influence on higher education in Ukraine, there are
challenges related to infrastructure, digital competencies, pedagogy, culture and economics. Indeed, we view
culture and economics as key, and mostly inseparable challenges.
During the implementation of the pilot program, and despite the fact that students were receiving credit
for participation as part of a standardized program, the instructor was asked to resign from her position as an
Associate Professor at KNEU because teaching online was not considered legally recognized education. To what
degree this rationale was accurate is a hopeless question. It does speak to the level of fear and distrust experienced
by many academic leaders. Of course, highly atomized networks of cooperation and economic challenges
exacerbate the problem.
But, turning to Western partners, introduces whole new sets of culture challenges. The instructor in the
pilot course, found numerous difficulties inserting a Canadian online learning model into a Ukrainian context.
Moreover, by being physically present in Canada, she was effectively positioned between two cultures, having to
manage two extremely different sets of interests and expectations, without the full institutional support of either
side. Differences in interests and expectations related to roles and responsibilities, teacher and student learning
behaviors, use of learning objects, and professional identity. “Caught between two cultures” in the cross-cultural
presence of peer-observers, the course facilitator often felt stressed and frustrated. It became obvious that the
learning model could not exist in isolation from a broader set of contextual socio-cultural and economic factors.
To address this issue empirically, we collected additional data and started a second study.
DEMOCRATIZED ONLINE LEARNING IN UKRAINE 9
Recently, we’ve begun to move beyond idealized conceptions of learning to more pragmatic discussions
regarding the economics of online learning in Ukraine. Collaborative-constructivist online models have powerful
democratized and 21st century, skill-building advantages. However, unlike more traditional or instrustrialized
distance learning they do not so easily leverage economies of scale. That is, the emphasis placed on synchronous,
collaborative activity and every participant’s experience in relation to addressing authentic problems generated by
learners themselves, implies much greater variability and level of inter-personal commitment. Therefore, although
significant cognitive and social benefits can be realized, there are infrastructural, financial and related professional
identity problems to solve. Very little collaborative learning researcher addresses the economic side of its
implementation, although significant research has been done in relation to cooperative desistance education (M.
Paulsen, 2002; M. F. Paulsen, 2003a, 2003b, 2009).
We recently interviewed two heads of online learning departments at KNEU and Sumy State University.
As they admitted, online learning in Ukraine is “in embryo state” and completely depends on the financial
capacities of the partnering institutions to provide technology and motivation for their professors to learn and
practice innovative methods. Yet, the bottom line is that Western partnerships do not usually present sustainable
The first stage of the introduced research project and the pilot course and completely volunteered by our
international team. Up-to-day, two more Ukrainian universities are ready to join the study, but some potential
partners refused to participate without additional funding. KNEU, were we piloted the course, cannot afford to
have this course in their program and continue to work in this direction. Therefore, for continuing research and
further dissemination of democratized online learning in Ukraine, a new business or funding model must be
developed. The economics of collaborative online learning is one more potential direction or this research project.
Despite all these challenges, we move forward in the belief that Ukraine needs democratized forms of
globalized, digital learning.
DEMOCRATIZED ONLINE LEARNING IN UKRAINE 10
Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational psychologist, 28(2), 117-
Bivens, F., & Taylor, P. (2008). Learning Democracy Through Dialogue: Reimagining the Potential of Higher Education
Institutions to Support Processes of Positive Social Change. Learning Citizenship by Practicing Democracy:
International Initiatives and Perspectives. E. Pennington. Toronto, Ontario, Transformative Learning Centre, OISE.
Blayone, T. J. B., Mykhailenko, O., VanOostveen, R., Grebeshkov, O., Hrebeshkova, O., & Vostryakov, O. (Submitted,
2016). Surveying digital competencies of university students and professors in Ukraine for transformative online
learning. Technology, Pedagogy and Education.
Dewey, J. (1910). Science as subject-matter and as method. Science, 121-127.
Garrison, D. R. (2011). E-learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice (2nd ed.). New York: Taylor
Gaventa, J. (2006). Triumph, deficit or contestation?: Deepening the 'Deepening Democracy' debate. Brighton, UK: Institute
of Development Studies, University of Sussex.
Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture's consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations
(Second ed.). London: Sage Publications.
Leontiev, A. (1981). Development of Mind: Erythrós Press and Media.
Levin, B. (2000). Putting students at the centre in education reform. Journal of Educational Change, 1(2), 155-172.
Löwy, I. (1990). The strength of loose concepts-boundary concepts, federative experimental strategies and disciplinary
growth: the case of immunology. History of Science, 30(90), 371-396.
Paulsen, M. (2002). Online education systems in Scandinavian and Australian universities: A comparative study. The
International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 3(2).
Paulsen, M. F. (2003a). Experiences with Learning Management Systems in 113 European Institutions. Educational
Technology & Society, 6(4), 134-148.
Paulsen, M. F. (2003b). Online Education. Learning Management Systems: Global E-learning in a Scandinavian
Perspective. Bekkestua, Norway: NKI Forlaget.
Paulsen, M. F. (2009). Resting in e-learning peace. International Journal of Networking and Virtual Organisations, 6(5),
Sviatnenko, S., & Vinogradov, A. (2014). Euromaidan values from a comparative perspective. Social, Health, and
Communication Studies Journal, 1(1), 41-61.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interaction between learning and development. Readings on the development of children, 23(3), 34-41.
Yoo, B., Donthu, N., & Lenartowicz, T. (2011). Measuring Hofstede's five dimensions of cultural values at the individual
level: Development and validation of CVSCALE. Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 23(3-4), 193-210.