Charlotte "Lani" Gunawardena

Distinguished Professor

Charlotte N. "Lani" Gunawardena, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Distance Education and Instructional Technology in the Organization, Information and Learning Sciences (OILS) program, College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences, at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Gunawardena received her PhD and master's degrees from the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, and her bachelor's degree from the University of Sri Lanka, Kelaniya.  Dr. Gunawardena founded and developed the graduate emphasis area in distance education in the OILS program, and has thirty years’ experience teaching about distance and online education. Another major interest focuses on how culture influences communication, technology and learning, and she blends this interest with distance education in the courses she teaches on global and adult learning.  She has chaired 24 doctoral dissertations to completion, and currently advises 12 doctoral students. Many of her former doctoral students hold key positions in the field of distance education in the United States and overseas. Dr. Gunawardena has designed, developed, implemented, and evaluated distance education courses, programs, and systems in the United States and overseas.  

Dr. Gunawardena’s publication record in distance and online education spans over 30 years with over 125 publications to her credit. Her co-authored book, Culturally Inclusive Instructional Design: A Framework and Guide to Building Online Wisdom Communities published by Routledge, New York, in 2019, was selected for the Best Book Award for 2019 by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), Distance Education Division. Dr. Gunawardena currently researches the sociocultural context of online learning communities, distributed co-mentoring, and employs interaction analysis and social learning analytic methods for analyzing social construction of knowledge in online learning collaborations.


Dr. Gunawardena has considerable monitoring and evaluation experience which began with her initial evaluation project in 1988 when she co-evaluated the State of Oklahoma’ s interactive television-based distance education system.  She has directed distance education evaluations for the United States Department of Education for nine years, and the National Institutes of Health funded Native American Research Center for Health for seven years.  In 2010, she was appointed by the United States Secretary of Defense to serve on the Army Education Advisory Committee - Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center Board of Visitors Subcommittee, for a period of three years to evaluate the curriculum and the institution’s support system for language learning. More recently (2018), she successfully led and completed the External Program Review effort and self-study report for the OILS program. She has consulted for the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, U.S. corporations, and international higher education institutions in Brazil, Ghana, Mexico, Spain, Sri Lanka, and Turkey. In 2019 she was appointed as a World Bank consultant for the Ministry of Health in Sri Lanka to design, develop, and evaluate online professional development programs for primary care physicians.   

Dr. Gunawardena has won several awards, including the University of New Mexico's General Library Faculty Recognition Award for outstanding work as a College of Education faculty member, and the University of New Mexico Regents' Lecturership and Regents' Professorship. She was honored with the Charles A. Wedemeyer Award for Excellence in Book-length Manuscripts in the field of Distance Education very early in her career.  In 2004, she won a Fulbright Regional Research award to conduct research in Morocco and her native country Sri Lanka.

See her personal website for details:

Selected Publications

  • Gunawardena, C. N., Frechette, C., & Layne, L. (2019). Culturally Inclusive Instructional Design: A Framework and Guide for Building Online Wisdom Communities. New York: Routledge.

  • Gunawardena. C. N., Flor, N. V., & Sanchez, D. M. (2018). Learning analytics and social construction of knowledge online. In Proceedings of the 34th Annual Distance Teaching and Learning Conference (pp. 271-277). Madison, Wisconsin: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.

  • Gunawardena, C. N. (2017). Cultural perspectives on social presence. In A. L. Whiteside, A. G. Dikkers, & K. Swan (Eds.), Social Presence in Online Learning: Multiple Perspectives on Practice and Research (pp. 113-129). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

  • Gunawardena, C. N., Flor, N. V., Gomez, D., & Sanchez, D. (2016). Analyzing social construction of knowledge Online by Employing Interaction Analysis, Learning Analytics, and Social Network Analysis. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 17(3), 35-60.
  • Jayatilleke, B. D., Gunawardena, C.  (2016). Cultural perceptions of online learning: Transnational faculty perspectives, Asian Association of Open Universities Journal, 11 (I), 50 – 63.
  • Frechette, C., Gunawardena, C. N., & Layne, L. (2016). How to design culturally inclusive online learning experiences (Yiwei Peng trans.). Journal of Distance Education in China, 12, 5-14. DOI 10.13541/j.cnki.chinade.20161216.001
  • Gunawardena, C. N., Palalas, A., Berezin, N., Legere, C., Kramer, G., & Amo-Kwao, G. (2016). Negotiating cultural spaces in an international mobile and blended learning project. In L. E. Dyson, J. Fergusson, &  W. Ng, (Eds.), Mobile Learning Futures-Sustaining Quality Research and Practice in Mobile Learning: Proceedings of the 15th World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning, mLearn 2016 (pp. 83-94).  Sydney, Australia: The University of Technology.
  • Palalas, A., Berezin, N., Gunawardena, C. N., & Kramer, G. (2015). A design based research framework for implementing a transnational mobile and blended learning solution. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, 7(4), 57-74.
  • Jung, I. & Gunawardena, C. N. (Eds.), (2014). Culture and Online Learning: Global Perspectives and Research Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  • Gunawardena, C. N. (2014). Globalization, Culture, and Online Distance Learning. In O. Zawacki-Richter & T. Anderson (Eds.), Online Distance Education - Towards a Research Agenda. (pp. 75-107). Athabasca University Press.
  • Lucas, M., Gunawardena, C., & Moreira, A. (2014). Assessing social construction of knowledge online: A critique of the interaction analysis model. Computers in Human Behavior, 30, 574-582.
  • Gunawardena, C. N. (2013). Culture and Online Distance Learning. In M. G. Moore (Ed.), Handbook of distance education (3rd Edition) (pp. 185-200). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Gunawardena, C., Faustino, G., Keller, P., Garcia, F., Barrett, K., Skinner, J., Gibrail, R., Jayatilleke, B., Kumarasinha, M., Kulasekara, G. & Fernando, S. (2013). E-mentors facilitating social construction of knowledge in online case-based reasoning. In Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Mentoring Conference (pp. 60-68). Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico, The Mentoring Institute.
  • Gunawardena, C. N., Layne, L. C., & Frechette, C. (2012). Designing wise communities that engage in creative problem solving: An analysis of an online design model. In Proceedings of the 62nd Annual Conference of the International Council of Educational Media (pp. 369-379).
  • Gunawardena, C.N., Linder-VanBerschot, J. A., LaPointe, D. K., Rao, L. (2010). Predictors of learner satisfaction and transfer of learning in a corporate online education program. The American Journal of Distance Education, 24(4), 207-226.
  • Gunawardena, C. N., Idrissi Alami, A., Jayatilleke, G., & Bouacharine, F. (2009). Identity, gender, and language in synchronous cybercultures: A cross-cultural study. In R. Goodfellow & M. N. Lamy (Eds.), Learning cultures in online education (pp. 30-51). London, UK: Continuum.
  • Gunawardena, C. N., Hermans, M. B., Sanchez, D., Richmond, C., Bohley, M., & Tuttle, R. (2009). A theoretical framework for building online communities of practice with social networking tools.  Educational Media International, 46(1), 3-16.
  • Knight, E., Gunawardena, C. N., Aydin, C. H. (2009). Cultural interpretations of the visual meaning of icons and images used in North American web design. Educational Media International, 46 (1), 17-35.
  • Gunawardena, C. N. (2009). A cross-cultural study of online social presence: Implications for designing virtual learning communities. Proceedings of the 23rd ICDE World Conference on Open Learning and Distance Education. Maastricht, The Netherlands.
  • Hollifield, M., Hewage, C., Gunawardena, C. N., Kodituwakku, P., Bopagoda, K., & Weerarathnege, K. (2008). Symptoms and coping in Sri-Lanka 20-21 months after the 2004 tsunami. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 192, 39-44.
  • Gunawardena, C. N., Ortegano-Layne, L., Carabajal, K., Frechette, C., Lindemann, K., Jennings, B. (2006). New model, new strategies: Instructional design for building online wisdom communities. Distance Education, 27(2), 217-232.
  • Ortegano-Layne, L. & Gunawardena, C. N. (2004). Synthesizing social construction of knowledge in online conferences using concept maps. In A. J. Canas, J. D. Novak, & F. M. Gonzalez (Eds.). Concept maps: Theory, methodology, technology. Proceedings of the first international conference on concept mapping, (pp. 495-502). Pamplona, Spain 2004.
  • Gunawardena, C. N., & McIsaac, M.S. (2004). Distance education. In D. Jonassen (Ed.), The handbook of research on education communications and technology, 2nd Ed. (pp. 355-395). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Gunawardena, C. N. (2004). The Challenge of Designing Inquiry-based Online Learning Environments: Theory into Practice. In T. Duffy and J. Kirkley (Eds.), Learner centered theory and practice in distance education: Cases from higher education ( pp. 143-158). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Gunawardena, C. N., & Zittle, F. (1997). Social presence as a predictor of satisfaction within a computer mediated conferencing environment. American Journal of Distance Education, 11(3), 8-25.
  • Gunawardena, C. N., Lowe, C. A., & Anderson, T. (1997). Analysis of a global online debate and the development of an interaction analysis model for examining social construction of knowledge in computer conferencing. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 17(4), 395-429.
  • Gunawardena, C. N. (1995). Social presence theory and implications for interaction and collaborative learning in computer conferences. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 1(2/3), 147-166.
  • Hillman, D. C. A., Willis, D. J., & Gunawardena, C. N. (1994).  Learner-interface interaction in distance education: An extension of contemporary models and strategies for practitioners.  The American Journal of Distance Education, 8(2), 30-42.
  • Gunawardena, C. N. (1992). Changing faculty roles for audiographics and online teaching. The American Journal of Distance Education, 6(3), 58-71.
  • Dillon, C. L., & Gunawardena, C. N. (1992). Evaluation research in distance education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 23(3), 181-194.
  • Dillon, C. L., Gunawardena, C. N., & Parker, R. (1992). Learner support: The critical link in distance education. Distance Education, 13(1), 29-45.
  • Gunawardena, C. N. (1990). Integrating telecommunication systems to reach distance learners. The American Journal of Distance Education, 4(3), 38-46.
Charlotte Gunawardena

Contact Information

  • Phone: (505) 277-5046
  • Office: Zimmerman Library 242


OILS 530 Theory and Practice of Distance Learning
OILS 531 Culture and Global eLearning
OILS 532 eLearning Course Design
OILS 545 Cross-Cultural Issues in Adult Learning
OILS 555 Mentoring and Adult Career Development
OILS 601 Advanced Instructional Design
OILS 635 Research in Distance Education
OILS 608 Advanced Seminar in Organization and Program Evaluation
OILS 541 The Adult Learner

Research Interests

Sociocultural context of online learning and social presence theory
Culturally inclusive instructional design
Distributed co-mentoring
Social construction of knowledge (SCK) in online collaborations
Interaction analysis and social learning analytic methods for analyzing SCK
Design, implementation, and evaluation of distance education and e-learning