Culture in Educational Technology

The amount of interest and research on culture in educational technology and technology (educational technology) might be characterized by a quick internet search, which reveals a vast and growing number of journals, conference presentations, professional associations, divisions within existing professional associations, online discussion forums, blogs and social networks dedicated to this topic (See International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT); NAFSA: Association of International Educators; International Division of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology; UNESCO Education for All World Education Forum; International Higher Education Consulting Blog; The Global Education Collaborative Ning). In this vast body of research, there is attention to a wide array of topics such as the digital divide, multicultural education, cultural relevance, internationalization and localization of educational content and cross-cultural awareness (Aydin & McIsaac, 2004; Barta, Jette & Wiseman, 2003; Bentley, Tinney & Chia, 2004; Debry, 2002; Powell, 1997). In addition to empirical studies in those areas, critiques, analysis, definitions and theories of culture abound as trends of globalization grow (Gunawardena & LaPointe, 2008; Perkins, 2008; Subramony, 2004; Thomas, Mitchell & Joseph, 2002).

Clearly, a great amount of attention has been paid to culture in the research and design projects of the educational technology discipline in recent years, yet there is still a noticeable absence of attention to culture in some of the major publications of the field (Subramony, 2004), including the Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, 3rd edition just published in 2007. When culture is attended to in the institutionalized texts of the field, it is often approached as a manageable factor of targeting the needs of an audience. For example, in the widely-used textbook, Trends and Issues in Educational technology and Technology, in a chapter on Educational technology in Business and Industry, Richey, Morrison and Foxon (2007) address globalization of training by acknowledging the trends of internationalization and localization, claiming that “internationalization produces a culturally free product” (p.181). This type of claim relies on the assumption that educational technologists and products can somehow achieve cultural neutrality and that the culture of the audience being targeted is the only factor influencing the design of a product.

Other views seek to avoid the messy entanglement of sorting out culture. In reviewing competencies for educational technologists in the same textbook, Davidson-Shivers and Rasmussen (2007) list attention to characteristics of the target population, environment and situation as necessary for educational technologists; however, they do not mention culture. Perkins (2008) considers whether the challenges concerning culturally-sensitive design may not deal with “the nebulous concept of culture, but instead context” (p. 19). Yet, context may be distinguished from culture in that culture, as defined across disciplines, describes influences on an individual or group derived from what humans share or have shared at a social level over at least an incubating period of time (Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1952). Context, on the other hand, may operate on for an individual without being shared and may exist only in a fleeting capacity. Context, though it may overlap in some places with culture, may not sufficiently address the complex, established and shared frames of reference individuals bring to learning experiences. Distinguishing culture from context squares with Tessmer and Richey’s (1997) approach to contextual analysis, where they identify culture as one of several contextual considerations

This post highlights a lag in attention to culture in the institutionalized literature and divergent views on whether it should be recognized as a distinct construct of significance in the discipline. This current state of discourse on culture is similar to that of emergent fields of research in any discipline.


Aydin, C.H. & McIsaac, M.S. (2004). The Impact of Instructional Technology in Turkey. Educational Technology Research & Development, 52(1), 105-112.

Barta, J., Jetté, C. & Wiseman, D. (2003) Dancing Numbers: Cultural, Cognitive, and Technical Instructional Perspectives on the Development of Native American Mathematical and Scientific Pedagogy. Educational Technology Research & Development, 51(2), 88-96.

Bentley, J.P.H., Tinney, M.V. & Chia, B.H. (2004) Intercultural Internet-Based Learning: Know Your Audience and What It Values. Educational Technology Research & Development, 53(2), 117-127.

Debry, D.P. (2002). Analysis of Emerging Practices in Globalizing Instructional Materials. Educational Technology Research & Development, 50(4), 73-82.

Powell, G. (1997). On being a culturally sensitive educational technologyer and educator. Educational Technology, 37(2), 6-14.

Gunawardena, C. N., & LaPointe, D. (2008). Social and cultural diversity in distance education. In T. Evans, M. Haughey, & D. Murphy (Eds.), International handbook of distance education (pp. 51-70). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Perkins, R. A. (Nov/Dec 2008). Challenges and questions concerning “Culturally-Sensitive Design.” TechTrends, 52(6), 19-21.

Subramony, D.P. (2004) Instructional technologists’ inattention to issues of cultural diversity among learners. Educational Technology, 44(4), 19-24.

Thomas, M., Mitchell, M. & Joseph, R. (2002). The third dimension of ADDIE: A cultural embrace. TechTrends, 46(2), 40-45.

Richey, R.C., Morrison, G.R. & Foxon, M. (2007). Educational technology in Business and Industry. In R.A. Reiser & J.V. Dempsey (Eds.) Trends and Issues in Educational technology and Technology 2nd ed. (pp. 174-184). New Jersey: Pearson.

Davidson-Shivers, G.V. & Rasmussen, K.L. (2007). Competencies for Educational technology and Technology Professionals. In R.A. Reiser & J.V. Dempsey (Eds.) Trends and Issues in Educational technology and Technology 2nd ed. (pp. 271-286). New Jersey: Pearson.

Kroeber, A.L., & Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. Harvard University Peabody Museum of American Archeology and Ethnology Papers 47.

By | 2017-09-28T16:34:20+00:00 January 16, 2013|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Culture in Educational Technology

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Instructional Technology and Design consultant and Teacher with 20+ years of teaching, management and design experience in face-to-face and online classrooms.