The role of context in instructional design: A case study examining the re-purposing of web-based master's degree courses for use in Malawi

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Virginia Tech


This case study examined how contextual factors influenced the adaptation of on-line courses created in the United States as they were re-purposed for use in Malawi.

The investigation starts and ends within Year Two of a five year project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The grant brings together an instructional technology program at a large research university in the southeastern United States and a newly established national university in Malawi, Africa.

A total of 24 people participated in the study. Of these, nine were directly involved in the adaptation process, five of whom were students from Malawi. Six other Malawian students took part in a formative review of the instructional products. Three professors of instructional technology were also directly involved in the adaptation process.

The participants involved in the adaptation process did their work over the course of one semester. They took pre-existing web-based courses created for an on-line master's degree program in instructional technology and adapted them for use in Malawi by accounting for various contextual elements.

Data included project documents, student-created materials including personal journal reflections, interviews with students and faculty at both institutions, field notes, and personal observations by the researcher. Data analysis procedures followed protocols established for descriptive, qualitative methodologies.

The findings emphasize the importance of a needs assessment and context analysis as developed by people who are native to a particular culture. Instructional designers who are made aware of contextual factors through such documents become more sensitive to cultural issues related to teaching and learning. Negotiation among team members to come to a workable consensus is also important, as project goals inevitably evolve. Another interesting outcome of this study was the fact that not one context, but two, affect adaptation. Whereas the Malawian context impacted content and delivery mechanisms of the courses, the U.S. context influenced the process and procedure for design.



context, Malawi, Africa, international project, adaptation, on-line learning, distance learning, transformation, instructional technology