Linda Dale Bloomberg holds the positions of associate director of faculty support and development, and full professor of education in the School of Education, Northcentral University, San Diego. Dr. Bloomberg received her doctorate in 2006 from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she completed the AEGIS Program in Adult and Organizational Learning. Her new book is titled Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners.
The racial reckoning of 2020 has made clear that our nation is at an inflection point. Placing equity, inclusion, and social justice at the very forefront of our teaching will help us teach in ways that better include and support our culturally diverse learners–especially those of marginalized or underrepresented cultures—thereby facilitating their achievement and success. No other time or place in history has brought together such a diverse array of cultures, backgrounds, and identities. However, with that diversity comes a great deal of responsibility for educators, who must be able to communicate effectively with learners of multiple cultural backgrounds, and also empower their learners to celebrate diversity. As I write in my latest book, Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners, as learning environments continue to become increasingly globalized, educators must seek to reduce barriers to education in order to provide inclusive and impactful learning experiences for all learners, regardless of their background, social and cultural contexts, or past educational and life experiences. We begin by reflecting on our role as teachers and examining how our own personal and cultural experiences inform our implicit biases and assumptions, and ultimately impact our teaching practice.
The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota defined culture as “shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a cultural group while also distinguishing those of another group” (CARLA, 2009, p. 1). It is important to recognize that cultural diversity is not only based on ethnic or national differences. Within any culture there are also regional differences, differences of upbringing and differences of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and ability. Individuals from different cultures engage in and expect different communication practices and behaviors during interactions in learning or work environments. It is vital therefore for instructors to be aware of how an individual’s life experiences and social and cultural contexts may shape their relationship with learning and with their teachers. The growing multicultural nature of the learner population makes it critical that those of us working in online learning environments develop the necessary skills to deliver culturally sensitive and culturally adaptive instruction. Challenges can be overcome through increased awareness, culturally sensitive communication, and modified instructional design. This means making intentional efforts to accommodate the diversity of online learner populations by considering adjustments to our teaching strategies so that we include and support all of our diverse learners.
The multi-cultural learning environment has unique potential for bringing learners and educators of different cultures together, thus bridging the gap in cross-cultural understanding. While members of marginalized or under-represented cultures are being offered unprecedented access to global knowledge, the pro-Western bias inherent in the technological foundations of distance learning can and does present obstacles both to access and understanding, and this remains and ongoing challenge. If learners can begin to see themselves and their communities in what they’re learning, then they learn differently—and more successfully. This is the idea behind culturally responsive teaching. In embracing a culturally responsive approach, learners’ cultural knowledge is seen as an asset in the classroom, not something that should be checked at the door. Ensuring cultural responsiveness is not new, but in this past year of reckoning with racial inequities, there is renewed interest among higher education instructors. Moreover, bringing cultural responsiveness into teaching is not just about checking a box or making an instructor feel good about doing “the equitable thing.” Culturally responsive teaching yields tangible benefits for learners; facilitating cognitive processing and cultivating critical thinking skills. Research has also illustrated that learners are more motivated to persist and succeed when they work with instructors who respect and are inclusive of cultural differences.
Instructional materials that expose students to racial and ethnic diversity enhance their engagement, critical thinking skills, thereby facilitating deep learning. In my book, Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners, I explain deep learning in the following way: Surface learning employs the least amount of effort toward realizing the minimum required outcomes. Achievement learning reflects an orientation to the external reward for demonstrated learning, with the predominant focus on activities that will result in the highest grades. Deep learning is based on embracing and digesting course material in the search for meaning, significance, relevance, and applicability of knowledge. For me, this is the essential goal of education!
Culturally responsive teaching is no longer a choice—it’s an imperative! Educators must push beyond the structural norms and dominant hegemonic perspectives that have perpetuated inequities for decades. With culturally responsive teaching at the forefront, we can open the doors for more inclusive, equitable, and impactful learning experiences.
What are YOU going to do to ensure this possibility?
Bloomberg, L. D. (2021). Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners. Teachers College Press, Columbia University.
Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota (CARLA). (2009). What is Culture? http://www.carla.umn.edu/culture/definitions.html