Lit Review: Student Perceptions of Inclusive Online Instructional Activities

As you may or may not know, I’m currently enrolled in a doctorate program at Florida State University in the Instructional Systems and Learning Technologies (ISLT) unit of the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems. My program focuses on studying Learning Design and Performance Technologies, and my focus is in higher education.

As a part of my doctoral journey, I’m reading and synthesizing quite a bit of literature on topics that I might want to pursue for my dissertation. Below is an excerpt from a mini-proposal I worked on within my first semester. This topic was of interest to me as I dove into learning about how instructional design influences learning. I read through publications about cross-cultural learning activities and culturally responsive teaching since this is my topic of interest. I found that there was less literature available focusing on the students’ perceptions of the learning activities/instruction, and when I read UMBC’s Dr. Patricia Young’s 2014 chapter titled The Presence of Culture in Learning I was hooked on narrowing in on the perception of the learner, rather than the instructor.

With Dr. Young being faculty at UMBC, you can imagine how ecstatic I was to have worked at the same institution for a brief period. I hope to meet with her one day to discuss her current research. Until then, I’ve posted my first literature review I wrote as a doc student that was crafted for a mini-proposal assignment. Enjoy, and please comment if you have thoughts or questions!

Underrepresented, First-Generation, and Low-Income Student Perceptions of Cross-Cultural Online Instructional Activities

Theoretical Framework and Instructional Design Models

Examining UFGLI student experiences will aid instructional designers and instructors to create inclusive learning environments. Researchers have recognized that a student’s culture plays a role in how they experience an online learning environment and the suggests the instructor’s role to enhance the experience for diverse students (Bhagat & Chang, 2017; Kumi-Yeboah et al., 2017; Sadykova, 2014; Yang et al., 2010). Many researchers applied Vygotsky’s (1986) sociocultural theory to understand how culture plays a role in the perception of learning. Kumi-Yeboah et al. (2017) found that diverse students preferred having their cultural backgrounds recognized in a way that contributed to knowledge construction. Yang et al.’s (2010) study suggested that instructors should model behavior in learning activities, such as discussion boards, and be aware of the cultural backgrounds of their students. 

Instructional designers should design inclusive learning environments by understanding that technologies are not culturally neutral and that there are levels of instructional design models responsive to culture (Qayyum, 2016). Göksu et al. (2017) identified the most popular models and frameworks, such as ADDIE, were found to address multiple variables and more specific models, such as the Multiple Cultures Model, that only address one specific research item, such as culture-based design elements. Henderson’s (1996) Multiple Cultures Model theorized that multiple cultures can influence a student’s experience in an online instructional environment and that there are strong and weak cultural contextualized design strategies. Thomas and Columbus (2009) explored the concept of implementing instructional design based on primary culture and academic identity and believed that culture permeated content and contexts of learning. It is paramount to be aware of your own biases when seeking to design an inclusive online environment (Qayyum, 2016). Researchers within the Instructional Systems and Design field seem to disagree on which type of models would be most beneficial for students to address cultural specifications (Qayyum, 2016). 

Bhagat and Chang (2018) found that culture contributes to how students perceive online learning. In a study by Joosten et al. (2018), results identified that course design and organization, interactivity with instructors, and course content significantly predicted student perceptions of learning for underrepresented students, or students who are first-generation, low-income, race/ethnicity, or learning disability. This study also recognized that design, organization, and assessment significantly predicted underrepresented student satisfaction (Joosten et al., 2018). The rising cross-cultural student population demands instructors and instructional designers to design curriculum and learning environments with cultural factors of learners in mind (Kumi-Yeboah, 2018). 

UGFLI Student Learning Experiences Online

The experiences of historically underrepresented students in higher education are reviewed in the following identified literature. Athens (2018) found that historically underrepresented ethnicities engaged more in online coursework than Caucasian students, but students who were underrepresented earned lower grades, which correlates with typical university statistics of withdrawal rates. Bosch et al. (2018) analyzed logged behavior data in an online introductory STEM course and found that students of color worked less on the course during the daytime, female students submitted their quizzes earlier, first-generation students quiz attempts were higher and non-traditional students accessed discussion forums less often than their peers. 

The experiences of first-generation college students, or students whose parents did not hold a bachelor’s degree, in higher education are reviewed in the following identified literature. Chen et al.’s (2018) study identified the large impact assessment had on first-generation college students’ self-efficacy in learning. Athens’ (2018) quantitative study showed that first-generation college students engaged with their online course just as much as their peers and achieved equivalent grades. However, the study also found that first-generation minority students were more engaged and achieved lower grades (Athens, 2018). 

According to Joosten et al. (2019), low-income students perceived their online instructional activities differently than other income students. Salvo et al. (2019) reported that resources, like financial assistance and handheld devices, were identified as common support systems to help students from a low-income background be successful in completing online coursework. Stich & Reeves (2017) noted that online students from a low-income background may not have full access to technology and rely on mobile devices, like smartphones to access the internet. Students that view their online learning environments via mobile device are particularly important for instructional designers to keep in mind when designing inclusive learning environments (Stotz & Lee., 2018). Alternatively, in Athens’ (2018) quantitative study, there was no connection found between income and successful course completion, which was identified as inconsistent with the literature.

Cross-Cultural Instructional and Curriculum Design

Examining UFGLI student experiences will aid instructional designers and instructors to create inclusive learning environments with cross-cultural instructional activities and curriculum design. Yang et al.’s (2010) study discussed the impact of students’ culture on their approach to learning activities, such as online discussions, and suggested that instructors should be cognizant of how a student’s cultural backgrounds may impact their work and build awareness of possible cultural biases in grading processes. Gómez-Rey et al. (2016) proposed that instructional designers should identify critical learning factors for each culture within the course and implement a wide range of learning activities, instead of repeating the same activity as to appeal to a variety of cultural backgrounds. Sadykova (2014) suggested providing a space for students to interact and share cultural knowledge to satisfy the needs of the learners, such as incorporating collaborative activities within the curriculum where students must negotiate shared understandings (Kumi-Yeboah, 2018; Sadykova, 2014). Morong and DesBiens (2016) proposed an online learning pedagogical guideline to support intercultural learning: multiple pedagogies explicitly stated and scaffolded intercultural learning outcomes, knowledge of cultural worldviews, cultural negotiation and consensus-building, diverse cultural representations, and flexible scheduling. 

Chen et al.’s (2018) study showed that the participants believed that assessment design was appropriate and understandable, which correlated to perceived learning and learning satisfaction. Multiple studies found that online faculty believe culturally responsive teaching is important, but they also lack the knowledge on how to implement it in their educational practices (Heitner & Jennings, 2016; Kumi-Yeboah & Smith, 2016). Kumi-Yeboah (2018) also found that instructors had limited training in cross-cultural instructional strategies and experienced difficulty in identifying cultural backgrounds within their students to design cross-cultural teaching strategies (Kumi-Yeboah, 2018). 


  • Athens, W. (2018). Perceptions of the persistent: Engagement and learning community in underrepresented populations. Online Learning Journal, 22(2), 27–58.
  • Bhagat, K. K., & Chang, C. Y. (2018). A cross-cultural comparison on students’ perceptions towards online learning. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 14(3), 987–995.
  • Bosch, N., Wes Crues, R., Henricks, G. M., Perry, M., Angrave, L., Shaik, N., Bhat, S., & Anderson, C. J. (2018). Modeling key differences in underrepresented students’ interactions with an online STEM course. ACM International Conference Proceeding Series.
  • Chen, B., Bastedo, K., & Howard, W. (2018). Exploring design elements for online STEM courses: Active learning, engagement & assessment. Online Learning Journal, 22(2), 59–75.
  • Fermín-González, M. (2019). Research on virtual education, inclusion, and diversity: A systematic review of scientific publications (2007-2017). International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 20(5), 146–167.
  • Göksu, I., Özcan, K. V., Cakir, R., & Göktas, Y. (2017). Content analysis of research trends in instructional design models: 1999-2014. Journal of Learning Design, 10(2), 85.
  • Gómez-Rey, P., Barbera, E., & Fernández-Navarro, F. (2016). The impact of cultural dimensions on online learning: FOM hochschule online-literatursuche. Educational Technology & Society, 19(4), 225–238.
  • Green, S. L., & Wright, C. F. (2017). Retaining first generation underrepresented minority students: A struggle for higher education. Progress in Education, 46(3), 101–122.
  • Heitner, K. L., & Jennings, M. (2016). Culturally responsive teaching knowledge and practices of online faculty. Online Learning Journal, 20(4), 54–78.
  • Henderson, L. (1996). Instructional design of interactive multimedia: A cultural critique. Educational Technology Research and Development, 44(4), 85–104.
  • Huang, Y. (2019). Undergraduate students’ perceptions of culturally responsive teaching and their Sense of belonging and academic self-efficacy in higher education [Doctoral Dissertation, Purdue University]. 
  • Joosten, T., Cusatis, R., & Harness, L. (2019). A cross-institutional study of instructional characteristics and student outcomes: Are quality indicators of online courses able to predict student success? Online Learning, 23(4).
  • Kumi-Yeboah, A. (2018). Designing a cross-cultural collaborative online learning framework for online instructors. Online Learning, 22(4), 181–201.
  • Kumi-Yeboah, A., & Smith, P. (2016). Relationships between minority students online learning experiences and academic performance. Online Learning Journal, 20(4).
  • Kumi-Yeboah, A., Yuan, G., & Dogbey, J. (2017). Online collaborative learning activities: The perceptions of culturally diverse graduate students. Online Learning Journal, 21(4), 5–28.
  • Morong, G., & DesBiens, D. (2016). Culturally responsive online design: learning at intercultural intersections. Intercultural Education, 27(5), 474–492.
  • O’Shea, S. (2016). Avoiding the manufacture of ‘sameness’: first-in-family students, cultural capital and the higher education environment. Higher Education, 72(1), 59–78.
  • Parrish, P., Linder-VanB, & Erschot, J. A. (2010). Challenges of multicultural instruction; addressing the challenges of multicultural instruction. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 11(2), 1–19.
  • Qayyum, A. (2016). Culture and online learning: Global perspectives and research, edited by Insung Jung and Charlotte Nirmalani Gunawardena. American Journal of Distance Education, 30(2), 125–127.
  • Sadykova, G. (2014). Mediating knowledge through peer-to-peer interaction in a multicultural online learning environment: A case study of international students in the US. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(3), 24–49.
  • Salvo, S. G., Shelton, K., & Welch, B. (2019). African american males learning online: Promoting academic achievement in higher education. Online Learning Journal, 23(1), 22–36.
  • Stich, A. E., & Reeves, T. D. (2017). Massive open online courses and underserved students in the United States. Internet and Higher Education, 32, 58–71.
  • Stotz, S., & Lee, J. S. (2018). Development of an online smartphone-based elearning nutrition education program for low-income individuals. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 50(1), 90-95.e1.
  • Thomas, M. K., & Columbus, M. A. (2009). African american identity and a theory for primary cultural instructional design. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 38(1), 75–92.
  • Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Woodley, X., Hernandez, C., Parra, J., & Negash, B. (2017). Celebrating difference: Best practices in culturally responsive teaching online. TechTrends, 61(5), 470–478.
  • Woodley, X. M., Mucundanyi, G., & Lockard, M. (2017). Designing counter-narratives: Constructing culturally responsive curriculum online. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, 7(1), 43–56.
  • Yang, D., Olesova, L., & Richardson, J. C. (2010). Impact of cultural differences on students’ participation, communication, and learning in an online environment. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 43(2), 165–182.

Multimedia Curriculum Example

The website incorporates various forms of media in the learning environment. In this particular project, college students learn how to be successful by learning about and implementing different study and organizational techniques. Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and other instructional design software packages were used in the development of this project.

Web development, curriculum, and technology integration project developed with Dreamweaver, Photoshop, CyberDuck, Garageband, Microsoft Powerpoint and other Web 2/3.0 products.