Resources on Instructional Design and Cultural Diversity

This has been a bee in my bonnet for a few months now. When we created educational resources online, we are hoping they will be useful to a global audience, but can we really achieve that without any extra effort on our part?


Whether the course is translated or not, how you write is critical to how it is understood by your non-English speaking target audience.  From simplified sentence structure, to avoidance of contractions and regional terminology, there is much you can do in an editorial sweep to improve the global usability of your content.


Most applicable to online course delivery is what expectations can you make on the student’s access tools, availability, and bandwidth. Providing the best educational content is of little help if the student can’t download the material in a timely manner over their slower Internet link, or if they can’t remain online for the duration of the course (and thus need an offline mode).

Assessment and Failure

This aspect of an online course can affect the end-user base, depending on the level of public vs private ability to ‘fail’ – that is, if quizzes and practice assessments are part of the course delivery, does the student get to take these practices privately, or will all results be available in public (within an online classroom, visible to the boss, etc).  The ability to practice and fail is critical to learning, but also culturally sensitive. A prospective student may bypass your online course if practice results (or any assessment results) become visible to peers, managers, etc.

User Interface and Presentation

Cultural issues within instructional design are most obvious in the areas of language use and user interface design.  Avoidance of gendered pronouns is the most obvious, but when developing online content, you must also consider any personas or avatars presented in the material, or in voice-overs. Whether it is the decision to use male or female, or present an avatar as an anthropomorphic animal, different cultures can reject such  presentations. This can also become an issue if you are using gamification principles within your on-line course. Zombies may be the rage in Western cultures, but the use of such can severely limit your global audience in some regions.

Questions to Ask

Inclusive Practices in Instructional Design has a good starting point on things to consider when developing courses for a diverse audience:

  • How do the learners view competition? Values placed on competition and collaboration are culturally bound.
  • What is the learners’ locus of control? Different cultures have different perspectives on the amount of control individuals have over happenings.
  • What are the learners’ preferred learning styles? A number of factors could influence people’s preferences, including culture, gender, age, and prior experience.
  • What are the learners’ cognitive styles? Some studies indicate that learners from different cultural groups may develop different cognitive styles. 
Inclusive Practices in Instructional Design  also has a long checklist for consideration in course development so go check it out in full (near the bottom of the paper).

Some other useful articles:


About Sandra Durham

Information architect and content strategist.
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