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  • Writer's pictureMichelle D Rogers

Multiculturalism in Online Learning Design

It is increasingly important to address pluralism in education, whether one is an instructional technologist, online teacher, or program administrator.

Inclusion Matters

This is true for both online and face-to-face learning. While an online teacher may not see their students, they should still take into account (as much as is possible) the demographics of the class, including any ESL students, and students who live abroad. Noting these things in advance of designing instructional practices can help insure that more students receive a fair, equitable, chance to succeed during the course.

UNESCO (2009) says, "Increasingly, information and knowledge are key determinants of wealth creation, social transformation and human development. Language is the primary vector for communicating knowledge and traditions, thus the opportunity to use one’s language on global information networks such as the Internet will determine the extent to which one can participate in emerging knowledge societies" (para 1). This means considering different languages in instructional design, as well as different cultural perspectives and needs. Offering equal ways for all to learn the material, and to learn the necessary skills to succeed in education, is a key component of any quality learning program. Quality education, whether online or face-to-face, is about inclusion of all students, so that all students have a fair opportunity to succeed. UNESCO (2010) says, "Learners may be excluded from education for a variety of reasons: ethnicity or racial bias, gender bias, poverty, health, social status, geographic isolation, and other forms of marginalization. Quality education seeks to reduce barriers to children attending school and then to enroll them in school" ( p 1). The main goal comes down to understanding multicultural needs. One does not need to be well traveled to take that into account. While it is true that travel to, or living in, other countries helps to boost empathy for different cultural perspectives and needs, it is not necessary and one can develop this skill even if they have never traveled anywhere. It just takes some study and reflection.

Different cultures and languages approach learning differently, and in different ways.

For example, in the USA we now focus on a lot of inquiry-based learning in the sciences, where students lead their learning through guidance and Socratic questioning of the teacher. In other cultures, though, this would not work well as their culture prohibits questioning the teacher or the methods: it is disrespectful.

Another example is that one could start an educational technology project that, ultimately, will not work for some reason in the local community. As Rogers (2003) notes, if one does not account for the local needs, customs, views, religions, and traditions then any new innovation or program is probably going to fail. In some areas of Africa, UNESCO and The World Bank want to implement needed educational programs. First, they look at the culture and social needs in the local communities. What is needed there? What are the local philosophies about education? What local views would affect such programs. Further, what technologies would work in that area? There can be a lack of Internet in some places, or lack of computers at home, or children must stay at home to help on the farm and cannot attend a school. In such cases, they will make very different technology chocies for distance learning. They thus may instead use radio, mobile, or correspondence study (The World Bank, n.d.).

In an asynchronous online course, the teacher may offer the chance to redo papers for a new higher grade, allowing any ESL or struggling students a chance to edit their work and learn from their mistakes.Or, in the instructional design, important information may be offered in more than one language.

Examples such as these offer insight into thinking about multicultural needs prior to making decisions about instructional technology, instructional design, and instructional practices. If one does not take into consideration the multicultural needs of the student base, then they may be setting all stakeholders up for failure. Do not choose the instructional practices and methods before evaluating the needs of the students. This is like choosing the tools to build a house before seeing the architectural designs. One needs to know what they are going to build before they decide on the best tools and methods to do the job.


Aida, B. (2008). Distance learning: The challenge for a multicultural society. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Retrieved from

Banks, J. A. (2002). An introduction to multicultural education. (3rd ed.) London: Allyn and Bacon.

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. (5th ed). NY: Free Press. Storti, C. (2004). The art of crossing cultures. (2nd ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

The World Bank. (n.d.). The use of mobile phones in education in developing countries. Retrieved from,,contentMDK:22267518~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:282386,00.html

UNESCO (2010). Contributing to a more sustainable future: Quality education, life skills, and education for sustainable development. Retrieved from UNESCO. (2009). Multilingualism in Cyberspace. Promotion and use of multilingualism and universal access to cyberspace. Retrieved from

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