Embracing Diversity in the Virtual Class: Types of Online Learners (Part 2)

“Since virtual learning classes may be comprised of learners from diverse cultures, it is essential for each learner to develop cultural sensitivities and avoid ethnocentric attitudes.”

Best Practices February 21, 2022

In the last article of this series, we looked at two types of online learners. Today we will look at two more types of online learners, focusing on how social style and understanding of culture can affect how students learn.

The Solitary Learner vs the Gregarious Learner
In the traditional classroom it is very easy to set up groups and have the learners meet and physically discuss concepts. This can be trickier in the online classroom. While it is sometimes possible for learners to get into breakout rooms and discuss, sometimes learners are in different time zones or have other issues that make synchronous learning challenging to coordinate. This makes the virtual class appear to be comprised of solitary learners. The solitary learner is usually able to work well alone. The general characteristics of a solitary learner are:

  • Self-motivated to learn
  • Reserved and likes to work alone
  • Accomplishes more faster when alone than with others

We usually have both solitary learners and gregarious learners in a virtual classroom environment. Although coordination of group discussions is complicated in virtual learning, it is important to include content that uses the strengths of both groups. While solitary learners have many strengths for online learning because it often requires working independently, gregariousness in learning is also helpful in the online classroom because it usually results in more ideas being generated and discussed from different perspectives during group discussions.

We need to include both individualized assignments and group work so both the solitary learner and the gregarious learner are able to use and develop their skills.

The Ethnocentric Learner vs the Culturally Relativistic Learner
Since virtual learning classes may be comprised of learners from diverse cultures, it is essential for each learner to develop cultural sensitivities and avoid ethnocentric attitudes. The ethnocentric learner is characterized by the following;

  • Believes their culture is superior to all other cultures
  • Has prejudices about people from other cultures
  • May make derogatory comments about others

It is very important to help each learner develop sensitivity to cultural differences in a virtual class and appreciate the uniqueness of each of their classmates. Adopting Sedlovskaya’s 4 Cs framework of curiosity, candor, courtesy, and courage can help learners to open up for group discussions, as increasing these qualities in the classroom allows students to be vulnerable with lower risk. Educators can enhance the sense of belonging as they assure students of their support, trust, and willingness to work together. As Hardman says, “In order to optimize student achievement in an inclusive, academically diverse classroom, the classroom itself must function as a community of learners that is designed to promote the active engagement of every student in experiencing the joy of learning.”

This article is Part of the Series Embracing Diversity in the Virtual Class. Watch for Part V next week!


Constance Chifamba

Constance is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Humanities and in the Faculty of Graduate studies, Research and Development at Solusi University. She is an Educationist who is passionate about research and ensuring best pedagogical practices. She has taught in High school and lectured at university level for more than 15 years.

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