A study by Stanford University says that while online education has opened access to learners worldwide, a single approach to training may not deliver the best outcomes, especially when it comes to course completion.
Instead, recognising cultural differences between learners – especially the difference between cultures that celebrate the power of the individual versus those where the good of the group comes first – is a much more effective approach.
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The study, by lead author René Kizilcec and his co-author, Geoffrey Cohen, involved 18,000 participants from more than 80 countries who enrolled in two Stanford online courses.
One part of the study involved an intervention, consisting of a two-part writing activity that lasted about eight minutes. This was based on a psychological strategy that involves weighing positive outcomes against obstacles in the way, and identifying ways to overcome those obstacles.
First, participants wrote about two positive outcomes and two obstacles regarding their online course. Second, they crafted “if-then” plans for overcoming the obstacles (for example, “If I'm too tired to study after work, then I'll make coffee.”).
When Kizilcec and Cohen analysed the effect along cultural lines, they saw that learners in individualistic cultures were more likely to complete the course – 32% more in the first experiment and 15% more in the second experiment – following the intervention.
By contrast, learners in collectivist cultures did not benefit at all from the intervention.
“Educational researchers have studied students either by observing them in classrooms or through controlled laboratory experiments,” Kizilcec said.
“For the first time, we have a lab in an authentic learning environment with large and diverse groups of people participating. Now we can learn much faster about how to support different learners through rapid experimentation and big data.”
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When it comes to using online training to enhance learning, recognising the culture of learners plays a crucial role, according to new research.