Thursday, March 31

More on cultural differences and ICT

I'm making this a new post even though I started it as a comment on George's post about Informalization of everything. I found that I just went so far afield, and my comments were really relevant to several other postings, so here it is as a new post.

First, the "informalization of everything" is important. Anyone can now say anything about anything. Whether it's true or not. I commented on this very briefly here in my blog and the column at Poynter Online (everything you need to be a better journalist) has some thought-provoking questions.

I would like to explore this "fundamental shift in individual control" from the standpoint of culture. First, I think the traditional media are starting to "get it," and they're moving toward faster response times. They're experimenting with call-in numbers (though the first use may have been American Idol, and with polling and voting from cellphones, and I think this will increase. These types of interactions are rather "constrained" compared to full interactions, but they might be the tip of an approaching iceberg.

I think that the Learning Objects movement is a full acknowledgement of the argument that there is (or should be) a shift toward individual control in ... personal learning needs. Without LOs we'd be in real trouble. And without a need for individual control, or at least tailoring for individuals, there'd be no need for LOs.

On the day that George posted (March 12) I was returning from spending a couple of weeks in a unique environment where the individuals were (all of the following): Tibetan exiles in India; IT specialists; Internet connected; bandwidth-starved. What did this tell me about individual control? First, the Indian educational system does not exactly move the learner toward the concept of individual (learner) control, nor does that used in the community I visited, for that matter. In India, students are taught to memorize the full extent of everything they're "given" to learn. (Where did I see this same statement yesterday?) And if they're given "too rich" an environment to learn in (online, let's say), they can be overwhelmed by it. "Google gags them" (my words). They are also not particularly encouraged to question the teacher (though they may be taught to question themselves, and this can be an integral part of the learning process). One of the things we discovered during our visit (to this part of India) was that the "connected world" really excludes a large part of what we might have thought was actually connected. Although my cellphone (which is GSM) worked *far better* throughout India than it did in the US, the Internet connectivity was truly the pits and a community of tens of thousands (or so) souls was surviving on total bandwidth of 2 megabits. (Roughly the same as 2 DSL lines, eh? For thousands of people?) What it meant was that any e-learning was going to have to be hosted within the community. There's no way a world-wide ASP model is going to work there in the next few years.

And it also meant that those within the local community, because they are bandwidth-limited, cannot ask for help from "outside." They can hardly "Google" to find the answer to a question because receiving a Google results page takes 10 minutes - an average Google "full search" typically takes 90 minutes. So because Googling is nonfunctional in this setting, and discussion groups and emails are equally painful, it is very difficult to get either answers or training from the "outside" world. (This will change over the next 18 months due to telecomm policy in India, and it will be interesting to see how information-seeking changes!)

One of the things we found which inhibited learning in this environment was the hesitancy to "play" and to "experiment." Because computers are expensive, and difficult to configure or reconfigure, nobody experiments with software systems - they don't install and try new software because if it breaks existing servers then they have little hope of resurrecting them. One of our first efforts is to try to get "experimental platforms" in the hands of the IT learners. I suspect we will find this same hesitancy in other cultures - and I suspect we will find that it is typically "Western" to experiment in the way we do.

More coming later... [Jim Schuyler]


Dave Lee said...


Thanks for the vivid picture of the realities for e-anything in a not-so-well connected corner of the globe. I'm just wondering if you weren't trying to put a square peg in a round hole though. You said your cell phone worked better than in the US. Maybe solutions through cell telephony might be the better solution for such cyber-isolated parts of the world.

As to the cultural impact on instructional design and willingness to play/experiment, I think the ID issues are well documented and solutions abound. But I'm not so sure the learning and development community has done more that scratch the surface of the cultural issues involved in adoption of new ways of thinking or investments in new learning technologies. And most intriguing to me is that these issues are not bound by geographic borders. Whether in Bangalore or Boston, management can create cultures that are not supportive of change, innovation and learning.

Jim Schuyler said...

Responding to the square peg suggestion - cellphone is indeed a posisble solution for some types of information and interaction - the difficulty is that the cellphone generally has a "small screen" and you can't push much information. The solution to that is to go audio and have interactive phone banks (IVR) that provide access to information. Might work! Also please be aware that you can do a Google search on your cellphone (!) and Google will digest the results and present them in a way that fits your screen (more or less)!

And one cool example of what you're talking about is an Internet Cafe I visited that uses a single cellphone and GPRS to provide the cafe's entire connectivity to the net! Narrow channel, but quit innovative.

Continuing on the international and cultural question...

A good way to stay up-to-date, and perhaps to receive "more information than you have time to process," about global e-learning, is to subscribe to the "E-Learning" or the "Information and Communication Technologies" mailings from the Development Gateway e-Learning knowledgebase.

At DG, new references are added frequently, and you'll be emailed when new posting appear in your chosen area of interest. What many people like about DG is that they post a "digest" or "review" of each source, so you can get a good idea whether you want to go read the original material.

The Development Gateway is an independent not-for-profit organization. It was conceived by World Bank President James Wolfensohn and initially developed in the World Bank. Operations began in July 2001.

For example, here's a posting from last week on "A culture-based model for strategic implementation of virtual education delivery" - (I think you have to register with Development Gateway before you can see the contents of this URL, but here's (below) the abstract and you can read the online article at the web site of the International Journal of Education and Development.)

ABSTRACT: This study was designed to examine the critical success factors for implementing Virtual Education Delivery (VED) in Thailand, and to identify ways to facilitate such adoption and lead to effective outcomes. The study incorporated an analysis of three specific factors related to Thai culture: high power distance “Bhun Khun”, uncertainty avoidance “Kreng Jai” and, collectivism “Kam Lang Jai”. This paper reviews the development of the research model, describes the conceptual underpinning of the cultural model and presents the findings of the study. A strategic framework for successful VED implementation is proposed and can be modified for any cultural environment. In addition an audit instrument was developed for evaluation and review of VED outcomes on an ongoing basis.