Communication in a Multicultural Virtual Learning Environment : Learning Communication Skills in Higher Education
Kovalainen, Niina; Bethell, Lloyd (2016)
Global Academic Institute
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Higher education institutes and global, transnational work life networks have created a real need for intercultural communication skills where using a foreign language is essential for successful communication. In higher education institutes’ courses are often organized virtually in a transnational environment that has an effect on the communication process. This paper reports upon a case study focusing on dimensions of communication competence in a virtual learning environment on a pilot virtual course shared between three Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences (FUAS) and taught by the authors in spring 2012. The empirical data were gathered from learning diaries, forums, and videos from the virtual course. By investigating the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of individuals of foreign origin and their Finnish peers participating in the course, the aim was to understand the existing communication skills and the competence needed for different agents to cooperate and work side by side in environments that are becoming even more transnational. From the findings it can be argued that the whole process of e-learning needs to be rethought, since it was seen by participants as something in addition to their studies that encroaches on extra-curricular time. A third culture in the virtual learning environment needs to be created. Results also indicate that motivations and attitudinal orientation are crucial in virtual communication: this course was seemingly task-oriented, but ultimately it also enhanced personal communication skills. As expected, acquiring new IT skills was seen as challenging but rewarding and learning the other party’s native language was seen as an asset in being accepted into the surrounding community. The crucial role of time-orientation in nonverbal communication for resolving communicative conflicts was also illustrated and highlighted more in the virtual environment.