Quality in e-learning within a cultural context : The case of Iran

Abstract: Higher education institutions in general and virtual institutions in particular are experiencing pressure to become more competitive all over the world. Such striving for excellence can be associated with and seen as a consequence of globalization that is propelling the reshaping of higher education. Further, a number of failed e-learning projects along with the accountability movement in higher education have significantly amplified concerns about quality in e-learning. Accordingly, there are worldwide calls for enhancing and assuring quality in e-learning specifically in the context of the developing countries. Such calls for quality enhancement, accountability, added value, value for money, self-evaluation, and role players’ satisfaction in higher education settings cannot go unheeded. This study attempts to reduce the gap between the investigated discourses, i.e. “quality discourse”, “e-learning discourse” and “culture and cultural-pedagogical discourse”, by developing a comprehensive e-quality framework that is sensitive to specific cultural contexts. Until recently, these discourses have seldom converged, especially in the context of developing countries. Taking a pragmatic approach in this development research, a mixed methods research was adopted in this study. This approach allowed the researcher to investigate this complex phenomenon using a variety of evidence types and perspectives. Addressing the concerns regarding enhancing and assuring quality in e-learning, a comprehensive e-quality framework is developed by taking into account the pros and cons of the previous models, frameworks and studies of e-quality. This e-quality framework provides a structure for enhancing and assuring quality in virtual institutions. Taking the Iranian virtual institutions -as a case of developing countries-, the study then investigates how culture and cultural-pedagogical issues can be integrated when developing and implementing an e-quality framework. Next, addressing embedded cultural-pedagogical dimensions in Iranian virtual institutions, we look at how the e-quality framework can adapted to “fit” in other cultural contexts. Finally, the e-quality framework is validated - in terms of its usefulness in a specific context - with respect to the Iranian virtual institutions. This study outlines a conceptual model, i.e. a culture-sensitive e-quality model, to demonstrate how the cultural and cultural-pedagogical issues can be built in and taken to account when developing and implementing an e-quality framework.

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