ETEC 565G: Special Course in Subject Matter Field: Culture and Communication in Virtual Learning Environments

ETEC 565G: Culture and Communication in Virtual Learning Environments (elective course - Special Course in Subject Matter Field)


How do cultural differences influence the learner experience? How can we better accommodate a culturally diverse learner audience in virtual learning environments? Online environments, and online learning environments, are not ‘culture-free zones’. Both the signs and the tools (Vygotsky and Luria, 1994) of virtual communications are culturally shaped, and diverse learners bring to online learning environments a wide range of culturally-mediated behavioural and communication patterns. Together, signs and tools allow individuals to process and interpret information, construct meaning and interact with the objects, people and situations they regularly encounter. When these elaborate mediating structures, finely honed to navigate a specific environment, encounter a different one, they can malfunction or break down completely.

This online course introduces theoretical frameworks and existing research that consider the potential impact of culture on communications and learning in virtual learning environments. The research area of intercultural communication, theories and methods, is reviewed, with a particular focus on definitions of the concept of culture in different contexts. Through examination of ‘critical incidents’ and investigation of their own professional and educational contexts, participants will consider the ways in which culture can impact learning in virtual environments, including (but not limited to) assumptions about ‘student-teacher’ communications; learner and teacher roles; communication style and genre; privacy vs self-disclosure; environment design; and attitudes towards truth, knowledge and evidence. The course will also consider whether contemporary Internet and communication technologies are changing cultural communication practices.

This course complements existing ETEC courses that focus on learning technology implementation and eLearning design by broadening the scope to include consideration of the challenges of multicultural classrooms in the increasingly globalized world of online learning.


In this course, students will:

  • Acquire knowledge about and be able to critically study and reflect upon different theories and methods within the research field of intercultural communication
  • Become familiar with selected research literature investigating the relationships between culture, communication and Internet technologies
  • Learn to observe, analyze and interpret intercultural communication in a variety of educational contexts including their own
  • Critically examine the ways in which cultural assumptions and communication patterns may influence design and implementation of online learning
  • Gain insight into their own intercultural competence and be able to reflect upon their own intercultural communication patterns and attitudes
  • Gain insight that promotes the development of one's cultural intelligence.

Course Details


All readings and resource materials for this course will be provided online, either through the course website or with links to materials that are freely available on the Internet or in the UBC Library.

However, the following two edited collections are highly recommended as resources and for your additional reading, and may offer additional resource materials for some course assignments:

  • Cheong, P. H., Martin, J. N. & Macfadyen, L. P. (Eds.) (2012). New Media and Intercultural Communication. Identity, Community and Politics. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Goodfellow, R. & Lamy, M-N. (Eds.) (2009). Learning cultures in online education. London: Continuum.


  • Module 1 - Culture and Communication
  • Module 2 - Cultural Issues in Teaching and Learning
  • Module 3 - Culture Online/Online Culture
  • Module 4 - Challenges of Intercultural Communication Online
  • Module 5 - Applying the Learning


(Subject to minor changes)

  • Module Projects: Hands-on Assignments (5): 75%
  • Online Seminar Participation (2): 10%
  • Overall Participation in Discussion/Reflection Actvities: 15%