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InterCultural Usability of e-Learning

Nowadays, use of Open and Distance Learning(ODL) and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Educational process has been made easier by new approaches to Web design in which the attention is focused on the user/learner and his/her activity and not only on the technology (pupil-centered-approaches). W3C consortium ( and authors like Donald A. Norman and Jacob Nielsen ( worked hardly to define a set of accessibility and usability standards and guidelines for adapting the Web technology to users' requirements and changing an old perspective where the user/learner was forced to adapt to technological constraints.

As a starting point, we can consider at least three aspects of ICT playing an important role in this cultural diversity:

  • The structure and organizations of the ODL/ICT based Educational system contents.

Do ODL/e-learning systems with different structure and organizations produce a different way of use in people coming from countries having different cultures?

Do culture and culture-related attitudes affect ‘where on the screen’ users expect to find relevant tools, information or contents on the ODL/ e-learning system? Is the ‘navigation’ model affected as well? (e.g. - let’s consider people used to read documents from right to left)

  • Iconography.

Do different cultures have different preferences about the iconographic representations of standard actions in the ODL/e-learning system (shapes, colors, symbols, textures, etc)?

  • Metaphors.

Do different metaphorical representations of concepts/ideas in ODL educational environments affect differently the learning process in people belonging to different cultures?

Failure in addressing culture-dependent issues in ODL and use of ICT in Education might lead to a negative impact on quality of Education and on the phenomena of early-course-leavers. It is then of outmost importance to undertake relevant and robust actions to promote awareness, better and easy-to-access resoureces about inter-cultural and culture-dependent pedagocical issues for all pepole involved in ODL, e-Learning and ICT in Education. At European level, the importance of cultural responsiveness and culture-sensitive ICT applications is rapidly growing due to increase of cross-national online learning. One of the current educational priorities of the European Union is to expand international learning in a variety of different ways. For instance, the Commission’s ongoing eLearning programme (2004–2006) promotes democratization of education by supporting the development of virtual campuses and virtual mobility. According to some recent studies, virtual mobility in the European universities is still mostly project-based activity and limited in scope. Due to the cultural richness of the European countries, the advancement of cross-national online learning and decreasing of digital divide depends crucially on the quality of the learning recourses in terms of cultural sensitivity.



[1] E.Sandon, Culturally sensitive e-Learning

[2] Konrad Morgan & Madeleine Morgan, Cultural Considerations in Interactive System Design, University of Bergen, Norway

[3] Davis, F., User Acceptance of Information Technology: System Characteristics, User Perceptions and Behavioral Impacts. In: International Journal of Man-Machine Studies 38, pp.475-487, 1993.

[4] Day D.L., Cultural Bases of Interface Acceptance: Foundations. In: People and Computers XI. Proceedings, HCI’96 (August 20-23 1996, Imperial College, London)

[5] Marinetti A., Dunn P., The challenge of cultural adaptation: a question of approach. In: Training Journal, issue November 2002.

[6] Simons G.F., Intercultural aspects of online training using games. A keynote speech presented at the ISAGA Conference, Tartu, Estonia, July 6, 2000.

[7] Pearrow M., Web Site Usability Handbook, Charles River Media, 2000.

[8] Nielsen N, Usability Return on Investment, © Nielsen Norman Group, 2002.


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