How does national culture affect the adoption of learning technology?

Na Li, Xiaojun Zhang and Maria Limniou offer tips to counter the hidden cultural and social factors that reduce acceptance of virtual learning environments, based on their research



14 Oct 2021
bookmark plus
  • Top of page
  • Main text
  • More on this topic
bookmark plus
Research backed advice on managing different national cultures to encourage engagement with learning technology

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University 

You may also like

When East meets West: improving student engagement in culturally diverse classrooms
Advice for teaching students across Eastern and Western cultural boundaries

The uptake of learning technologies has been, in many cases, disappointing. University managers, educational technologists, educators and other practitioners are looking for ways to overcome this resistance and boost the use of learning management systems, also known as virtual learning environments, or VLEs. However, researchers have found factors that influence the adoption of learning technologies are not universal, and they differ from country to country. This research hopes to unpack the secret of users’ resistance from a cultural perspective – resistance that existed long before the pandemic – and offer advice to counteract it.

Which factors influence learning technology adoption in different regions?

We identified 290 key factors that influenced the VLEs’ adoption at universities in 42 countries and regions, after reviewing 145 studies published in high-quality journals between 2001 and 2020. We categorised these factors as:

Individual factors

Individual factors are related to personal characteristics (gender, age, habits, experience), cognition (opinions, motivations, values) and digital capability (technological skills, digital readiness). For example, one of the strongest predictors influencing VLE uptake among Swedish students is how useful they personally think the technology is.

Institutional factors

Institutional factors are organisational support (internet access, training, guidance) or social influences (learning culture, social norms, beliefs). For example, Malaysian students are more willing to use VLEs if their classmates and teachers are active users.

How do you overcome cultural obstacles to VLE adoption?

Although the pandemic has disrupted our daily lives, it might not as easily disrupt long-standing national culture. Here’s our advice on how to overcome cultural obstacles to VLE adoption, arranged according to four of Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede’s six dimensions of national culture:

1. Enhance teacher development in high power-distance cultures

Power distance refers to the perceived difference between people at the higher and lower levels of the social hierarchy. Teachers and students from countries or regions with higher power-distance cultures are more likely to be influenced by external pressures, shared logic of action or common beliefs, our research found.

For example, the Malaysian students we mentioned above are from a high power-distance culture, where people with a higher level of perceived power have a great deal of authority.

We recommend enhancing teacher development as a priority for universities with a population heavily influenced by high power-distance culture. Well-trained teachers will spread the value and practices of VLEs to new teachers and students.

2. Build inclusive communities of practice in low-masculinity cultures

Teachers and students from countries or regions with lower-level masculinity culture are more affected by personal perceptions, emotions and internal motivations, we found.

Masculinity culture refers to how much emphasis a society places on traditional gender roles. For example, the Swedish students we mentioned above are from a low-masculinity culture, focusing less on rugged individualism and more on empathy and sharing.

In this case, we recommend universities with low-masculinity cultures consider building more communities of practice for teachers and students. The communities of practice encourage interaction and communication for sharing ideas and perceptions of using learning technologies in different contexts.

3. Develop digital competence in low uncertainty avoidance culture

Uncertainty avoidance refers to how uncomfortable people feel when faced with unknown or uncertain situations. Teachers and students from countries or regions with lower-level uncertainty avoidance are most affected by their digital capability, we found.

For example, students from China, which has low-level uncertainty avoidance, with stronger digital skills and competence are more willing to use VLEs. Although younger generations are commonly referred to as digital natives, students’ ability to use learning technology is not a given. We need to pay more attention to digital competence development, especially for people in a low uncertainty avoidance culture.

Professional development programmes in technology-enhanced learning could help teachers learn pedagogical and technological knowledge and skills to better design and deliver online or hybrid learning and teaching. Digital literacy programmes for students are essential across all year levels.

4. Improve infrastructure and support in short-term-oriented culture

Short-term-oriented cultures tend to place more value on the past and present than the future. We found that teachers and students from countries or regions with short-term-oriented cultures are more likely to be influenced by institutional factors such as organisational support.

For example, teachers and students from Australia, which has a short-term-orientation culture, are more likely to rely on the universities’ facilities when using VLEs. To encourage more active use of the learning technologies, we recommend universities in short-term-oriented regions consider upgrading their technology infrastructure and technical support to help users overcome the present challenges first.

This advice is based upon the research paper “A country’s national culture affects virtual learning environment adoption in higher education: a systematic review (2001–2020)” published in Interactive Learning Environments.

Na Li is a PhD candidate at the University of Liverpool and Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, an educational developer, module leader of the PGCert programme, and a fellow of Advance Higher Education.

Xiaojun Zhang is a senior associate professor and the dean of the Academy of Future Education at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University and a principal fellow of Advance Higher Education.

Maria Limniou is a lecturer in digital education and innovation at the University of Liverpool and a senior fellow of Advance Higher Education.


You may also like

sticky sign up

Register for free

and unlock a host of features on the THE site