- In Canada, anyone with First Nations, Metis or Inuit heritage
- May or may not self-identify with, or choose to disclose, their Indigenous identity
- Varied age range, although are often mature learners
- Will typically be balancing educational role with multiple social roles
- May have dependents
- May require flexibility with deadlines in order to partake in cultural events
The Indigenous learner and online learning
Due to Canada’s history of colonization, Indigenous learners have many unique needs and struggles with online learning. Many Indigenous communities are underfunded and under-resourced, and this includes their schools. The Indigenous learner may lack ICT literacy as they may not have grown up with adequate access to technology, and digital tools may not have been an integral part of their education. They may still struggle with this inequity, and have limited access to devices and to reliable internet connectivity.
Online courses are sometimes the only means of obtaining an education for Indigenous learners, especially those who live and work in remote communities, or those who require additional flexibility in order to balance educational and social roles. Remote learners who are isolated in small communities may have complex learning needs and might experience insufficient support from their family or community, who are unable to relate to their experience of post-secondary and online learning. Indigenous learners are also struggling with complex historical trauma while attending institutions that are grounded in colonial practice.
Online courses generally utilize Western-dominant pedagogy, which may cause friction for the Indigenous learner. In order for an online course to be delivered in a culturally-relevant manner, and for Indigenous learners to have success, the 5 R’s should be embedded in course design:
- Respect: The need to recognize and respect First Nations cultural norms and values.
- Reciprocity: Honouring student voice and choice, creating equitable relationships instead of instructor-centred knowledge transmission.
- Relevance: Learning should reflect the needs of First Nations culture and ways of knowing.
- Responsibility: Instructor and learner have a responsibility to uphold culture, as well as personal/social aspects of being.
- Relationships: Relationships are reciprocal between teacher and student, and should foster connections to community and self. (Kirkness and Barnhardt, 1991; Tessaro et al, 2018, p. 133-135)
The Indigenous learner and Learning to Learn Online
The MOOC supports the needs of Indigenous learners in several ways. The course focuses on asynchronous communication, which gives space for greater flexibility and allows learners to balance their educational role with their social roles. Furthermore, because the MOOC only offers one synchronous live session, which is recorded, learners with slower/lagging internet can still access all course content and not miss pertinent information. Finally, the MOOC was relatively interactive, and included video, online activities and discussions alongside each module.
The MOOC was certainly not developed with the 5 R’s in mind; however, there are certain aspects that support several of the R’s. The MOOC offers many opportunities for learners to communicate with each other and build a rapport, and the “welcome forum” at the beginning of the course fosters explicit connections between learners though it’s “all about me” discussion post. This benefits all learners, but especially those who derive meaning from storytelling and relationship-building as part of their learning experience.
There are several ways that the MOOC could have increased culturally relevant content for Indigenous learners, including: including digital storytelling, acknowledging the barriers that many minority groups face when learning online, such as access to technology and including Indigenous professors, elders, or other knowledge holders in the videos and case studies.