In this module, we examine cultural and global considerations for online learning.

We share resources to help get your students involved in global collaborative projects, as well as explore issues, considerations and strategies relevant to teaching international audiences.

To set the stage, watch the video below, Did You Know?


Learning Objectives

At the end of this module, participants will be able to:


Picture of a dictionary definition. Glossary of Key Terms

5D Model of Cultural Dimensions - A model by Professor Hofstrede which suggests there are five basic dimensions of culture that can help us understand how, on average, people from different nations view and solve basic problems.

Self-directed learner - A learner who is self-motivated and confident to navigate through course materials at his or her own pace.


Big Idea – The World is Flat

Image of a flat map of the world. In his bestselling book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman suggests we have entered an era of globalization where the world has shrunk from a "size small to a size tiny" with a flattened playing field (Friedman, 2005, p.10).

We live in a world where individuals can collaborate and compete globally. The lever that is easily and seamlessly enabling individuals to go global is software, in conjunction with the creation of a global fiber optic network. In essence, this has made us all next-door neighbors (Friedman, 2005).

Friedman urges us to ask two questions:


Big Idea – The World is Flat

While watching the video in the introduction, you were asked to consider the question, "What skills we need to be teaching our students to help best prepare them to be competitive in the flat world?"Picture of Alan November.

Alan November (2006) suggests the vision should be to create a culture of teaching and learning that produces students who are:

In effect, the goal is to create a culture where students are:


Here's How – The World is Flat

Image of a globe. For students to have the capacity to compete in the global economy and collaborate with learners worldwide, educators may want to consider the following:

In this section of the module we will focus on providing ideas and strategies to help get students involved in global collaborative projects.


From the Field – The World is Flat

Student Action Newsgroup logo. The Student News Action Network is an online platform bringing together student journalists from secondary schools around the world.

Formed by students, contributors use new media to address issues of local and global significance in a collaborative, peer-driven environment.

The network is currently limited to six bureaus: The American School of Doha, International School Bangkok, Washington International School, The International School of Brussels, The International School of Prague, Bishops Diocesan College.

The News Action network is committed to expanding to other schools in the near future, with the aim of creating a truly global network of student journalists.


Big Idea – Going Global

Photo of a girl with a globe. Earlier, we posed two questions from Thomas Friedman:

In responding to Friedman's second question, through the eyes of an educator, the opportunities for global collaboration are numerous.

The Student News Action Network showcased on the previous page is one such example of how students can get involved in global, collaborative projects.

In this section we will explore further options by looking at a series of project websites.

Here's How – Going Global

image of the ePals logo There are several websites that target themselves exclusively to teachers looking to connect with projects and with classrooms around the world.

One of the most popular is ePals. Scroll down the homepage of the ePals site to find projects that are currently available and a running list of schools worldwide who are looking to work collaboratively with others.

ePals has over 130,000 school profiles in their database. Profiles are organized for students of all ages – elementary level through to the age of 19+.

In the Classroom Match section on the homepage (middle right), take the time to search for a topic and an age range from various countries around the world. Or try the ePals Search with Maps.

See if you can find a plausible match for your students.

If you would like to get involved further with ePals, you will need to create a profile and register for the site.


Here's How – Going Global

Image of the Kiva logo Many school groups and classes are involved with Kiva. It is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, which empowers individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe.

The people you see on Kiva's site are people in need of funding. Visitors can browse entrepreneurs' profiles, choose someone to lend to and then make a loan. This, in turn, helps a real person make great strides towards economic independence and improved life styles for themselves, their families and communities.

Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), those who donate receive email journal updates and are able to track repayments.

Schools and/or individuals can create their own Lending Teams.

To see a list of schools already involved, go to the Kiva Community Page and select Schools in the drop down menu.

Here's How – Going Global

Image of the iEARN logo iEARN is another educational resource to explore for international projects.

All projects on this site are designed by teachers and students.

Each involves a final "product" or exhibition of the learning that has taken place as part of the collaboration.

Examples include magazines, creative writing anthologies, websites, reports to government officials, arts exhibits and performances.

To find educators in your subject area and student range, go to the Collaboration Center and conduct a search in the "Find Educators" area.


Here's How – Going Global

At the MIT Media Lab, Dr. Mitchel Resnick and the Lifelong Kindergarten Group have developed a programming language called Scratch. (Available as a free download.)

The following video provides an overview.


Here's How – Going Global

Scratch Logo Scratch is designed to help young people develop 21st century learning skills that will be critical to success in the future:

Although intended for a target audience of 8 to 16-year-olds, younger children can work on Scratch projects with their parents or older siblings, and college students often use Scratch in some introductory computer science classes.

From the Field – Going Global

Photo of children climbing trees 13 year old Diana and her 8 year old brother have been active participants of the Scratch Online Community for over a year. Diana writes,

"What I really like about Scratch is the way it's possible for young kids to create interesting projects, but it's also complex enough that even adults who know many other programming languages still enjoy participating. It reminds me of some trees near our library that are always full of kids -- they have thick branches close to the ground, so that even 2-year-olds can enjoy climbing in them, but it's also interesting enough or older kids to climb. The Scratch Community, like the trees, is always full of groups of people of all ages having fun."

David, a Computer Science Instructor from Harvard writes,

"Although designed for a younger audience, we've deployed Scratch at the undergraduate level in introductory computer science courses at Harvard College, Harvard Summer School, and Harvard Extension School. In our view, Scratch lowers the bar to programming, empowering first-time programmers not only to master programmatic constructs before syntax but also to focus on problems of logic before syntax. At the undergraduate level, we view Scratch as a gateway for students to languages like Java."

Discussion icon

Discussion Question: Were you able to find any global projects that you might be able to use with your students? Do you know of any other websites and/or resources that offer opportunities for global and collaborative projects?



Big Idea – Issues and Considerations for Global Learning

Photo of a teacher talking to a student. Whether you are preparing your students to work on a global project with students or preparing to teach an online course with students from around the world, there are certain considerations to take into account.

In this next section, we explore various issues online instructors need to consider when teaching in an international community.







Big Idea – Issues and Considerations for Global Learning

Dr. Larry Ragan In the words of Dr. Larry Ragan, Director of Faculty Instruction at Penn State University World Campus, the most important thing to remember when working with a global audience is, "communication, communication, communication."

In this audio recording, Dr. Ragan discusses key considerations when communicating with audiences around the world. Click the gray arrow to begin. (Recording is 3:04. There is no video component.)

Here's How - Issues and Considerations for Global Learning

Dr. Tony Bates According to Dr. Bates, former professor at the University of British Columbia, English is far and away the most predominant language in terms of the international delivery of distance education. There are clear disadvantages of working in another language in online courses, when students have to contribute towards collaborative assignments or participate in discussion forums with those for whom English is their own language (Bates, 1999).

Online courses have some advantages over face-to-face teaching for students working in another language than their own. For example:

Disadvantages include:

From the Field – Issues and Considerations for Global Learning

Picture of Keith Palloff and Rena Pratt. In the following audio recording, Drs. Palloff and Pratt discuss issues related to teaching international students whose first language is not English.

Click the gray arrow to begin. (Recording is just under 4 minutes. There is no video component.)






Big Idea - Culture

Photo of Professor Geert Hofstede Professor Geert Hofstede is Emeritus Professor in Organizational Anthropology and International Management in the Netherlands. His work in international management provides an interesting perspective on cultural differences worldwide.

In a large scale research project conducted for IBM, which involved over 116 000 respondents in more than 70 countries, Hofstede created a 5D Model framework based on five basic dimensions of culture (1991):

Professor Hofstede's framework was designed to help understand how, on average, people from different nations view and solve basic problems. On his website, you will find each country around the world measured with respect to each of the five dimensions.

Here's How - Culture

Four photos depicting global images. How can you put Professor Hofstede's framework into practice?

The following 5D Cultural Dimensions Overview summarizes each of the dimensions and suggests some of the implications each has to the world of online learning.

On his Cultural Dimensions website, there is the opportunity to compare your own country to countries around the world. Try comparing several countries around the world to see the similarities and/or differences in each of the 5 Dimensions.

Using the Overview, complete the DragNDrop activity below to review the major concepts of this model.

 Hyperlink to DragNDrop Activity 


Discussion Question: What are your views on Hofstede's 5D Model. Do you think his work holds any relevance to your teaching experience?


Here's How - Culture

Photo of textbooks with a computer mouse attached. When considering how you will design an online course, you may want to consider an overview of your potential audience (Powell, 2004). In a culturally diverse world, it is suggested that instructors spend time (if at all possible) to research your audience and their backgrounds.

1. What country do they come from?

2. What language(s) do they and their families speak?

3. What was life like in their native country?

4. What was their previous schooling experience?

5. What is their level of literacy in their native language?

6. What are some aspects of their culture that may impact experiences in the learning environment?


From the Field – Culture

Nithyanantha Sevanthinathan is the Director of International Programs and Services at Lone Star College in The Woodlands, TX. In the following video he summarizes some of the issues online instructors should consider when teaching international students.


From the Field - Location

Photo of Tony Bates We conclude this section with Dr. Tony Bates, current Chair of the International Experts Panel for the Open University of Portugal and a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Advisory Council on Technology and Education.

He notes there is a tendency in 'Western' courses from the USA, Britain, Canada and Australia to encourage critical thinking skills, debate and discussion, where students' views are considered important, and where the views of teachers can be legitimately challenged and where student dissent is even encouraged (Bates, 1999).

In other cultures, there is great respect shown by students for the teacher, and it is culturally alien to challenge the teacher or even express an opinion on a topic.

Consider the following…

"I find myself wondering to what extent I should impose 'Western' approaches to learning on students coming from other cultures, while acknowledging on the other hand that this 'new' or different approach may have attracted them to the courses in the first place."


Discussion Question: What are your thoughts on Dr. Bates' comment?



In this module we have explored the following:

Whether you choose to engage your students in a global project, or teach students from around the world, as Thomas Friedman suggests, in this flat world, we are all next door neighbors. The ability to understand each other, work collaboratively and communicate effectively is critical.

For a review of the topics covered in this module, try the DragNDrop activity below. You will find the Final Assessment for this module on the pages that follow.

 Hyperlink to DragNDrop Activity 


Barrett, E. & Lally, V. (1999). Gender differences in an on-line learning environment, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, (15) 48–60.

Bates, T (1999). Cultural and ethical issues in international distance education. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from

Friedman, T. (2005). The World is Flat. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. London, England: McGraw-Hill.

Jones, A. & Alony, I. (2007). The Cultural Impact of Information Systems Through the Eyes of Hofstede – A Critical Journey, Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology (4), 407-419.

November, A. (2006). Creating a Culture of Fearless Learning. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from

Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2002). The Intellectual and Policy Foundations of the 21st Century Skills Framework. Retrieved April 11, 2009, from

Pink, D. (2006). A Whole New Mind. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.

Powell, B. (2004). Instructional design in a cross-cultural context. In B. Hoffman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from

Price, L. (2006). Gender Differences and Similarities in Online Courses: Challenging Stereotypical Views of Women, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(5), 349-359.

Shaffer, J. (2004). Cultural implications for online learning. In B. Hoffman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from


Final Assessment

Please complete the following before proceeding to the next module. Click on each question to begin.

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

Question 4