Designing learning environments for cultural inclusivity: A case study of indigenous online learning at tertiary level


  • Catherine McLoughlin The University of New England
  • Ron Oliver Edith Cowan University



Flexible delivery of educational resources must take account of cultural variables and recognise the specific learning needs, preferences and styles of learners. In designing instruction, there may be a tension between the need to ensure access for a diverse student population, while at the same time taking into account the need for localisation to accommodate learners' particular cultures, cognitive styles and preferences. Considering the micro and macro cultural levels of instructional design is therefore essential if appropriate learning environments are to be created. The acceptance, use and impact of WWW sites is affected by the cultural backgrounds, values, needs and preferences of learners.

One of the limitations in current instructional design models is that they do not fully contextualise the learning experience, and are themselves the product of particular cultures. The design of Web based instruction is not culturally neutral, but instead is based on the particular epistemologies, learning theories and goal orientations of the designers themselves. Recently, theorists have argued for a cultural dimension in the design process and the need to provide culturally sensitive learning environments.

In this paper, we trace the design processes involved in the development of an online learning environment for indigenous Australian learners preparing to enter university, and account for the cultural issues that impacted on creation of learning tasks and styles of communication. The paper argues for cultural localisation, which means incorporating the local values, styles of learning and cognitive preferences of the target population. It also means going beyond surface level design considerations, to achieve culturally inclusive constructivist learning environments. Examples of tasks, activities and forms of online interaction are provided in the context of a bi-cultural model of learning that recognises diversity and different learning needs. It is recommended that when creating WWW based course support sites for cultural inclusivity, systematic attention must be given to particular design guidelines, which include responsiveness to learner needs, community based learning and cultural contextualisation of learning activities.


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How to Cite

McLoughlin, C., & Oliver, R. (2000). Designing learning environments for cultural inclusivity: A case study of indigenous online learning at tertiary level. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 16(1).

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