By Prof Insung Jung
Visiting Research Fellow, Seoul National University


While a theory in open and distance education (ODE) aims to guide research and practice, regardless of cultural and contextual differences, it cannot be entirely free from these influences. Understanding the cultural and contextual differences in teaching and learning, technology adoption, and ODE, this paper proposes a cycle of contextualization, generalization, and recontextualization in ODE theory building and application. This cycle begins with contextualized theory building, where the theory assists in formulating meaningful research questions, collecting appropriate data, analyzing it correctly, and interpreting it within a specific context. The theory is then applied in various contexts, becoming generalizable across different ODE cases. For a theory to be more impactful, this generalized theory needs to be modified and elaborated upon for a particular cultural context, based on empirical research that adopts a cultural approach.


Contextualization-Generalization-Recontextualization cycle, Cultural Approach to Research, ODE Theory, Open and Distance Education Theory, Technology Adoption, Traditional Theories.


As Kaplan (1964, p.309) put it, a theory is ‘a way of looking at the facts, or organizing and representing them.’ It can adopt various forms, whether descriptive or prescriptive, inductive or deductive. Hoover and Donovan (1995, p.40) outlined four essential functions of theory within social sciences:

  1. Theory provides patterns for the interpretation of data.
  2. Theory links one study with another.
  3. Theories supply frameworks within which concepts and variables acquire special significance.
  4. Theory allows us to interpret the larger meaning of our findings for ourselves and others.

Building on these foundational functions, Jung (2019, p.3) claimed that in the realm of open and distance education (ODE), theory serves to organize, summarize, and explain knowledge, formulate meaningful research questions, and carry out empirical studies that are necessary in the ODE field. Furthermore, it assists in prescribing optimal strategies for ODE and in predicting future developments within ODE. Despite the utility of theory in framing knowledge, and in guiding research and practice across diverse cultural and contextual landscapes, theory remains inevitably influenced by those very cultural and contextual factors.

the paper will propose a cycle of contextualization-generalization-recontextualization in ODE theory building and application.

This paper will begin with a journey through the evolution of ODE theories, from the era of correspondence education to the present age of ODE. It will then explore cultural differences observed in individuals’ thinking, teaching and learning styles, technology use, and ODE, supported by empirical evidence. Building on an understanding of these differences, the paper will propose a cycle of contextualization-generalization-recontextualization in ODE theory building and application. Finally, the paper will conclude with a list of ‘top five’ considerations for ODE researchers and practitioners.

Historical Changes in ODE Theories

Since the 1960s, several theories in ODE have been developed. Among these, the following foundational theories are particularly noted for their substantial contributions to the understanding and development of ODE, especially during the correspondence and broadcast eras of ODE (Jung, 2019, pp. 4-5).

Foundational theories

For example, the theory of autonomy and independence, discussed by Wedemeyer (1977) between the 1960s and 1970s, emphasizes ODE’s focus on the learner’s self-independence while studying at a distance. To enhance learner autonomy and motivation in ODE, Holmberg (1983; 1989) focuses on the interaction between the student and the teacher through learning materials. His theory of guided didactic conversation introduces several strategies to foster conversational relationships between the student and the teacher, primarily in printed learning materials.

Building on the theory of autonomy and independence, the theory of transactional distance (Moore, 1973; 1993) aims to integrate concepts of learner autonomy, dialogue, and structure in ODE, drawing on J. Dewey’s notion of transactions between teacher and student. This theory focuses on the dynamic interplay of these three concepts within the specific communicative and psychological spaces created by the separation of teacher and student.

While the theory of autonomy and independence and the theory of transactional distance mainly concentrate on the individual learners’ learning process in ODE at a micro-level, the theory of industrialized teaching and learning (Peters, 1971; 1983) examines the socio-economic context of ODE at a meso or macro level. It portrays the field of ODE as an industrialized form of teaching and learning, emphasizing the division of labor in material development and delivery and the use of efficient and standardized production processes.

Openness has always been a central theme in education at large (Iiyoshi & Kumar, 2008) and “a possibility inherent in distance education” (Harris, 1987, p.14). Throughout ODE’s history, the terms distance education and openness have often been used interchangeably, as seen in the term Open and Distance Education. Initially focusing on open admissions and access, the concept of openness has evolved and been redefined with the development of ODE policies and technologies, recently incorporating the idea of sharing open educational resources (OER) in teaching and learning.

With the advancement of various information and communication technologies (ICT) in ODE since the 1990s, several new theories have emerged in response to these changes, as highlighted by Jung (2019, p.5).

Emerging theories

Connectivism emphasizes new learning opportunities enabled by network technologies, based on the premise that learning occurs across networks of people from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds. This perspective aids in understanding the dynamics and opportunities within the sociotechnical context for advanced technology-enabled learning, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs), as discussed by Downes (2005) and Siemens (2005).

The community of inquiry model centers on bidirectional interactions between teachers and students in open and online learning environments, investigating the creation of meaningful and deep learning through three key elements: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence (e.g., Garrison et al., 2000).

An extended spatial model of e-education examines the extended nature of teaching and learning spaces in ODE (e.g., Jung & Latchem, 2011), integrating various educational philosophies and methods into a more comprehensive framework for the planning and design of online education.

Heutagogic theory is centered on a self-determined learning approach in today’s massive, open, and online learning environments, where learners are required to take initiative and manage their own learning in technology-supported personalized learning environments (Blaschke, 2012; Hase & Kenyon, 2000).

Need for cultural considerations

As one may already observe, most of the theories mentioned are primarily rooted in Western thought and practice. For instance, the theory of autonomy and independence, along with guided didactic conversation, originates from the USA and Sweden, respectively. The theory of industrialized teaching and learning emerged out of the German milieu. Connectivism and the community of inquiry model are from Canada and the USA. The extended spatial model is from Japan and Australia, while heutagogic theory originates from the UK and Australia. The stark reality is that ideas and experiences from the East have been excluded from the theoretical canon on ODE.

Despite the global, mobile, and online society of today, where people interact across cultures, absorbing aspects of these diverse cultures—with Asia, being a significant part of the East, rapidly integrating many Western ideas—cultural changes are not easily attained. Deeply ingrained values, passed down through generations, tend to remain stable and do not quickly adapt due to multicultural and global experiences, as noted by Jung (2014a, p.16). This might explain why theories developed within a specific cultural context may not always succeed in organizing, summarizing, and explaining phenomena or knowledge in other cultures, often failing to generate meaningful research questions for different contexts. To be effectively applied across cultures, a theory must seek generalization beyond a particular culture. Yet, to be meaningfully applied in varied cultural contexts and generate useful knowledge for those cultures, the generalized theory must undergo recontextualization, taking into account cultural uniqueness.

To better understand cultural uniqueness and its impact on teaching and learning, the next section will review cultural differences in learning styles, technology adoption, and ODE, based on Jung and Gunawardena (2014a) and other related studies.

Cultural Differences

Differences in thinking and perception

Scholars such as Hofstede (1991) and Hall (1976) describe Western cultures as more individualistic, logical, precise, action-oriented, and low-context, while Asian cultures are characterized as more collective and high-context. Nisbett (2003) also views Western thought as emphasizing consistency and focusing on the object, whereas Asian thought accepts contradiction and is more concerned with context. Similarly, Spronk (2004) observes that Western cultures prefer an analytical approach, dividing reality into its parts, while Eastern cultures adopt a more synthetic approach, focusing on the whole rather than the parts.

These cultural differences extend to basic psychological processes such as perception, cognition, and memory, as argued by Matsumoto (1996). A notable example is the varying perceptions of the Müller-Lyer illusion (Figure 1) among people from different cultural backgrounds. Indians and New Guineans, accustomed to natural, rounded, and irregular surroundings and objects, tend to perceive two lines of the same length. In contrast, most Westerners, familiar with humanmade, predominantly rectangular-shaped objects, perceive line A to be shorter than line B (Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010; Matsumoto, 1996).

Figure 1: The Müller-Lyer illusion
(Created in 1889, Creative Commons License)

Differences in learning styles

One notable study by Joy and Kolb (2009) explored the connection between culture and learning styles (Jung, 2014a, pp. 17–18). Utilizing ten cultural clusters – Anglo, Latin Europe, Nordic Europe, Germanic Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, Southern Asia, and Confucian Asia – the learning styles of 1,292 individuals from these cultures were analyzed. The Kolb Learning Style Inventory, a 12-item instrument assessing the degree to which individuals exhibit different learning styles (Abstract Conceptualization vs. Concrete Experience; and Active Experimentation vs. Reflective Observation), was employed for this purpose. The study’s key findings included: 1) Confucian Asia - comprising China, Japan, and South Korea - ranked highest in Abstract Conceptualization, while Latin and Anglo cultures, including France, Spain, Australia, and the USA, scored highest in Concrete Experience; and 2) among various factors (culture, age, gender, level of education, and field of study), the field of study was foremost, and culture was second in accounting for the most variance in Abstract Conceptualization vs. Concrete Experience. From these findings, Jung (2014a) deduces that Confucian Asian culture exhibits a strong inclination towards abstraction, whereas Latin and Anglo cultures show a preference for concreteness over abstraction in learning. This suggests that culture is a significant, if not the primary, influence on how individuals process information, learn rules and strategies for planning and problem-solving, and perceive the world around them.

The stark reality is that ideas and experiences from the East have been excluded from the theoretical canon on ODE.

Differences in technology adoption

Moreover, cultural uniqueness and differences appear in the adoption of media and technology, which serve as channels for ODE. Extensive research has aimed to understand why individual users adopt or refrain from adopting certain technologies in teaching and learning. While personal factors such as self-efficacy, job roles, perceptions of usefulness, and ease of use of technology are deemed important, social influences and culture also play a significant role in technology acceptance (Jung, 2014b). Previous studies (e.g., Robey et al., 1990; Rogers, 1995) have demonstrated that culture can either hinder or facilitate technology acceptance or implementation efforts due to differences in how technology is perceived and interpreted across different socio-cultural contexts. For instance, Straub (1994) and Singh (2006) discovered that cultures with high uncertainty avoidance, like Japan (despite being a technologically advanced country), tend to show lower levels of ICT adoption compared to cultures with low uncertainty avoidance, such as the USA and China. However, the results are not consistently observed. In research by Cardon and Marshall (2008), cultures with high uncertainty avoidance were found more likely to embrace technology as a means to reduce uncertainty, thereby adopting technology more rapidly.

Online education is often regarded as a novel and innovative alternative to traditional face-to-face education. Within this context, Duan et al. (2010) examined Chinese students’ perceptions of the innovative features of online learning when selecting online programs offered by UK universities. A survey involving 215 students identified perceived compatibility and trialability as particularly influential in the adoption of online degree programs by Chinese students. Nonetheless, trialability was inversely related to the adoption of online education, and other factors such as relative advantage, complexity, and observability in Rogers’ adoption model seemed less significant for Chinese students in embracing innovative online education. Jung (2014b) suggests that the negative relationship between trialability and the adoption of online education may stem from Chinese online learners’ reluctance to pay for online degree programs that are available for free trials, preferring more exclusive online degree programs instead. The researchers noted that for China’s younger generation, the complexity of a new technology/innovation is not a deterrent; they are willing to try it as long as it aligns with their learning needs, lifestyles, and career goals (p.26).

Another study (Bagchi et al., 2004) involving 31 countries across North and South America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific regions over a decade showed that, even after accounting for the economic and social differences among the countries, Hofstede’s national cultural indicators (see https://www.hofstede-insights. com/models/ for Hofstede’s national culture model) predicted most technology adoptions. The diffusion of six information technologies (the PC, telephone, cell phone, fax, Internet, and pager) was more extensive in countries characterized by higher levels of individualism, lower power distance, and cultural femininity.

Differences in ODE

Such cultural differences are also evident in ODE, as Jung (2014a, p.18) discusses, highlighting several research findings that underscore these variations. For instance, in individualistic Western cultures, which emphasize an “I-You” stance signifying equal status between teachers and students and a focus on independence over group identity, online learning often involves text-based materials, independent study, and the employment of metacognitive skills. Conversely, in Asia, where “We-They” stances and collective cultures predominate, and students place greater value and trust in their instructors’ knowledge and opinions over their own, ODE teachers and students show a preference for TV and video-conference lectures over impersonal text on the internet and asynchronous online spaces, as seen in Japan (Özkul & Aoki, 2007). Additionally, online teachers in China face challenges in balancing teacher-centeredness with a more learner-centered approach in their teaching methods (Wang, 2006).

Jung (2014a) suggests that the level of leadership, interaction, and support expected by learners may vary across cultures. For example, learners from power-centric cultures might favor a more instructor-centered pedagogy in online learning, with expectations of greater guidance and instruction from their instructors, while those from cultures with more distributed power might prefer a learner-centered approach, expecting more interactive activities. In collectivistic cultures, learners might anticipate more group work and collaborative social activities, whereas learners from more individualistic cultures may seek an independent style of online learning.

In recent years, it has been observed that many online courses are becoming multicultural, with collaborative activities highly encouraged. This collaborative and multicultural teaching and learning process exposes both students and teachers to cultural differences, leading to the emergence of a relatively homogeneous online teaching and learning culture. However, as Anderson (2004) contends, despite the advanced communication and interaction abilities developed by participants in online learning, gender and other subcultural differences still exist.

In Japan, where teacher-centered face-to-face education is highly valued, Bray et al. (2008) investigated predictors of learner satisfaction in online learning and found that students with prior experience in ODE tend to develop a preference for online learning, finding it more suitable for their autonomous and independent learning style. In China, Chen and Wang (2010) report that contemporary Chinese online learners demand more interactive and flexible learning activities guided by instructors, rather than just receiving one-way video lectures and multimedia resources.

There is substantial evidence that male and female students differ in their experiences, perceptions, motivation, preferred learning and communication styles, and performance in online learning environments. An early study by Bellman et al. (1993) found that in both African and Latin American contexts, where female learners were often hesitant to express their opinions in classrooms, they became more assertive in sharing comments anonymously in online environments. In the United States, it was observed that female students favored online learning more than male students (Sullivan, 2001), showed higher self-efficacy scores and test results (Chyung, 2007), and tended to be more connected than male students (Rovai & Baker, 2003). However, it is important to note other studies reporting inconsistent or contrary findings regarding gender differences (e.g., Tekinarslan, 2009; Yukselturk & Bulut, 2009). As Jung (2014a) concludes, these inconclusive findings suggest that context is a crucial variable in assessing gender differences in online learning.

A Cultural Approach to ODE Research and Recontextualizing ODE Theory

The studies discussed above illustrate the significant role cultural differences play in the adoption and practice of ODE. While culture influences how learners and teachers perceive and act within ODE, it is crucial to acknowledge that culture evolves over time, and diverse cultures exist within nations and societies. Gunawardena and Jung (2014) contended that “culture can be negotiated online through a communication process mediated by technology interfaces, which themselves are culturally produced. Culture impacts every facet of online learning, from course and interface design to communication in a sociocultural space, and the construction of knowledge (p.1).” If this is the case, a theory in ODE, which aims to help us organize, summarize, and explain knowledge, as well as prescribe effective strategies for ODE, needs to be adapted to specific cultures and recontextualized. To recontextualize any well-recognized ODE theory, research should be conducted within the cultural context of interest. A cultural approach proposed by Jung and Gunawardena (2014b) may guide ODE research and aid in recontextualizing general ODE theory to suit the local context.

To be effectively applied across cultures, a theory must seek generalization beyond a particular culture. Yet, to be meaningfully applied in varied cultural contexts and generate useful knowledge for those cultures, the generalized theory must undergo recontextualization, taking into account cultural uniqueness.

Jung and Gunawardena (2014b) define the cultural approach to ODE research as “the systematic and systemic study of the ways in which cultural forces interact with online learning environments and online learner behaviors (p.187).” The cultural approach aims to: 1) understand cultural influences on ODE processes and outcomes, as well as the new cultures that emerge from ODE; 2) compare and contrast cultural differences in open and distance learning and communication processes; 3) identify culturally appropriate instructional strategies for ODE; and 4) improve design processes and practices in ODE. Four types of research applying the cultural approach are suggested for ODE researchers. The following section introduces four types of research based on Jung and Gunawardena (2014b, pp. 187–191).

Four types of research needed for theory recontextualization

To understand a phenomenon, event, or program within a specific local culture and identify key issues involved, exploratory research is necessary. It is recognized for providing insights into what, why, and how something occurs in ODE within a particular context. It aims to offer a general understanding of cultural phenomena in an ODE setting. Some questions for exploratory research include:

  • How does culture evolve over time in various ODE contexts?
  • How does an ODE environment influence the culture of the interacting online learner group?
  • How is culture negotiated in an ODE environment by participants?
  • What educational paradigms, values, and philosophies do diverse learners bring to the ODE context?
  • What changes are occurring in open and distance learning processes and interactions alongside cultural shifts?
  • What changes are occurring in open and distance teaching practices alongside cultural shifts?

To test and verify general cultural assumptions or existing cultural theories, and to compare cultural phenomena across cultures, cross-cultural research is recommended. This research suggests that although a general rule (or theory) exists in an ODE environment, its manifestation can vary across cultures. Some questions for cross-cultural research include:

  • Why is ODE successful in one culture but not in others?
  • Is there an association between the use of video lectures and online learner satisfaction across cultural groups?
  • How does the process of knowledge construction in an ODE environment differ across various cultural groups?

Another type is explanatory research, which aims to uncover potential causes of a social phenomenon. The explanatory cultural approach in ODE would focus on identifying the effects of a certain ODE strategy on learning achievement, interaction, or other learning behaviors. Research questions for explanatory research include:

  • Does social (or emotional, cognitive, teaching) presence affect student engagement in a specific cultural context? Why?
  • Is a MOOC (or another type of ODE) perceived differently by diverse cultures?
  • Are there differences in the collaborative learning process between two different cultures?
  • Are certain designs or facilitating strategies in an online course more effective than others for specific learners and groups? Why?

Finally, design research is another type of cultural approach to ODE research. It aims to clarify effective processes for integrating cultural features into instructional design to produce a culturally appropriate ODE system. Thus, understanding and identifying culturally effective teaching and learning strategies for a specific ODE system is crucial, and research results accumulated from exploratory, cross-cultural, and explanatory research play an important role in offering such strategies. Questions of design research include:

  • What cultural features should be considered when designing an online course?
  • What procedures or steps need to be followed to account for culture in instructional design for an ODE system?
  • How should diverse learners be supported in an online course offered in a specific cultural environment?

From research to recontextualizing theory

In conducting ODE research, researchers start with a theory (or theories) that aids in formulating meaningful research questions, collecting appropriate data, analyzing them correctly, and interpreting the results within a broader context. The theory used for their research is often generalizable across various contexts but may not perfectly fit a specific cultural context. By adopting one or more of the cultural approaches to ODE research mentioned above, researchers should be able to provide insights for modifying and elaborating on the initially adopted theory for their own cultural context, thereby recontextualizing the theory based on evidence.

In addition to utilizing qualitative and quantitative data collected from interviews and surveys, a significant advantage of conducting research in recent ODE is the use of computer-generated log data that records the learning process and performance. Various models and methods, such as learning analytics or big data analysis, have been developed to assist researchers in measuring, collecting, and analyzing data about ODE learners, learning processes, patterns, and contexts.

As we advance with various types of research to better understand culture in the ODE context and ODE within a specific culture, we should explore new perspectives and design approaches that offer a more constructive and holistic view of the interaction between culture and ODE. By doing so, we will be able to refine and modify general theories in ODE and generate recontextualized and even intercultural theories on the uses of ODE.

Next, we will further discuss a cycle of contextualization, generalization, and recontextualization in ODE theory building and application that can be generated from a cultural approach to ODE research and traditional educational theories.

A Contextualization-Generalization-Recontextualization Cycle in ODE Theory Building and Application

Asia’s ODE history

Despite the fact that many countries in Asia have a long history of ODE with strong government support, as argued by Belawati and Baggaley (2010) and Panda (2017), most of the ODE theories introduced in the first section of this paper are primarily based on thinking and practice from the West, with ideas and experiences from Asia largely overlooked. These theories, developed in the context of the West, have over the years gained considerable conceptual influence and have been generalized across various contexts with empirical research evidence supporting their application. For example, Wedemeyer’s theory of autonomy and independent study (1977) and Holmberg’s theory of guided didactic conversation (1983) have been utilized in the design and development of a variety of teaching and learning materials, including textbooks and workbooks for distance learners in numerous open universities around the world. This includes institutions in different regions such as Korean National Open University, the Open University of Japan, Indonesia’s Universitas Terbuka, Open University Malaysia, Open University of China, India’s Indira Gandhi National Open University, and more from Asia; the UK Open University, the National University of Distance Education in Spain, FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany, Anadolu University, Turkey, the Open University in the Netherlands, and Universidade Aberta in Portugal from Europe; and the University of South Africa, Open University of Tanzania, Zimbabwe Open University, National Open University of Nigeria, and more from Africa. These universities have developed their teaching and learning materials to foster distance learners’ motivation and self-directed learning, employing several strategies suggested by the theories of autonomy, independence, and guided didactics.

Considering local research and traditional theories in recontextualizing ODE theories

Even though ODE theories can be generalized and applied across a wide range of contexts, their theoretical robustness can be enhanced by considering two key components: 1) empirical evidence from ODE research conducted within specific cultural contexts, and 2) traditional theories that have been developed and applied in educational settings outside the West. These components are crucial for further improving and recontextualizing ODE theories.

context is a crucial variable in assessing gender differences in online learning

First, as argued by Brown (1977) and Fawcett and Downs (1986), theory and research share a dialectical and transactional relationship, where theory informs research questions and guides data collection and analysis. Research findings, in turn, confirm or suggest modifications to existing theories. For the recontextualization of accepted ODE theories, research evidence plays a pivotal role. Empirical evidence from ODE research in various contexts is well-documented in related journals, conference proceedings, and books on ODE. This evidence includes results from the four types of research employing a cultural approach as previously explained. Utilizing empirical research evidence, ODE theories developed in one context and generalized across various contexts can be enhanced and recontextualized to more effectively explain and advance ODE in different contexts.

Take, for example, Moore’s theory of transactional distance. Several studies (e.g., Jung, 2001; Park, 2011) have shown that the theory of transactional distance is applicable and generalizable across culturally and technologically diverse contexts. Yet, other studies indicate the need for cultural and contextual adjustments to the theory. In a study comparing online learners from Nepal and Iceland, Lemone (2005) identified significant cultural influences on transactional distance during their online courses and emphasized the importance of considering the level of technology development in society when calculating transactional distance. In another study with online students in Taiwan, Chen (2001) discovered that the learner’s internet skill level and interaction with the instructor and other students affect transactional distance, whereas structured support does not. These studies highlight the necessity to revisit and recontextualize the variables within the theory of transactional distance.

Utilizing empirical research evidence, ODE theories developed in one context and generalized across various contexts can be enhanced and recontextualized to more effectively explain and advance ODE in different contexts.

Second, traditional theories have been applied in educational practices and research throughout the long history of education across various cultural contexts. These theories can provide valuable insights for recontextualized theory building. For instance, Confucianism has greatly influenced thinking and education across Asia by valuing education, emphasizing the ethics of hard work, respecting teachers, and valuing examination-based selection (Kim, 2009). Additionally, Confucianism underscores the importance of cultivating oneself to be knowledgeable, independent, and autonomous through reflection, inquiry, and questioning (Kennedy, 2002, p. 433). Echoing an old Confucian quote, “When I walk along with two others, from at least one I will be able to learn,” Confucianism promotes collaborative learning and encourages teachers to facilitate and support active learning engagement through peer learning. Applying traditional theories like Confucianism in the refinement, elaboration, and recontextualization of ODE theories, typically developed in a Western context, can enrich them. For example, in the theory of autonomy and independence, which emphasizes learner autonomy and independence in distance learning and is later supplemented by interaction between the learner and the instructor via guided didactic conversation, integrating the concept of peer learning rooted in Confucianism could further expand the theory by incorporating interaction and conversation with peer learners. As Said (as cited in Nowicka, 2015) argues, theories travel from one place to another and can be misinterpreted and misused during this process. When applying an ODE theory developed in one context to a different one, it may need reinterpretation and adaptation to effectively account for the sociocultural and philosophical differences between the contexts (Jung, 2019, p.121).


As argued throughout this paper, ODE theory building does not occur in a vacuum. The development, application, and evaluation of an ODE theory vary across societies and cultures. This paper aims to provide valuable insights for those interested in ODE theory building and elaboration from a cultural and contextual perspective. I would like to conclude by offering a list of the ‘top five’ considerations for ODE researchers and practitioners in Asia and beyond.

  1. An ODE theory is often developed within a specific cultural context, reflecting the uniqueness of that culture. Such a theory can be generalized through accumulated research in other cultural contexts. For instance, the theory of transactional distance, originating in the USA, has been applied and generalized across various regions, including Asia, and to various forms of ODE, including recent online learning developments.
  2. Understanding cultural influences and variances is crucial for adapting and refining ODE theory to different cultural contexts. It is necessary to explore how an ODE theory developed in one culture (e.g., in the USA) is recontextualized or relocalized in another culture (e.g., Asia) through empirical research and traditional educational theories (e.g., Confucianism). ODE researchers aiming to construct new theories or elaborate and recontextualize existing ones should understand the cultural differences and commonalities emerging from ODE practices.
  3. Cultural differences and commonalities must be carefully observed and analyzed, as culture is a complex concept in the ODE context. Cultural uniqueness often presents contradictory findings influenced by various factors, such as gender, teaching approaches, learning styles, and technology experiences and levels. A cultural approach is beneficial for observations and empirical research in ODE within specific cultural settings. This approach can encompass different types of research (exploratory, crosscultural, explanatory, and design) depending on the research objectives.
  4. A recontextualized ODE theory, strengthened by robust empirical research and cultural considerations, enhances its theoretical power. This, in turn, aids ODE researchers in formulating more meaningful research questions, interpreting their findings within a local context and in comparison with other contexts, and assists ODE practitioners in designing and developing more suitable ODE strategies for their specific contexts.
  5. ODE researchers and practitioners should develop the competencies necessary to conduct research from a cultural and contextual perspective, utilize their research findings, and apply their understanding of cultural differences in recontextualizing accepted ODE theories.


The Mandarin Chinese version of this article (translated by Junhong Xiao) was first published in 2020 in Distance Education in China, 8, 33-44. This slightly revised English version is published herein with permission from Distance Education in China.

This paper was refined with the assistance of OpenAI’s GPT-4, complementing the author’s editorial process.


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Professor Insung Jung may be contacted by email at isjung@snu.ac.kr