Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Learning styles and culture

How do people from different cultures learn? Are learning styles affected by culture?

We already know from extensive research that male and female are significantly different in approaches to learning and processing information, and it seems logical to assume that people of different cultures will also learn in different ways (see for example

“Ways of learning are derived from ways of life and how adults and other people, including peers, in the immediate context 'teach'. These ways of learning develop through a complex interaction between life experiences, habits and formal instruction. Some cultural differences may occur in this regard which you should consider but they cannot be assumed. Culture is shaped by a multitude of circumstances and influences. “

Of course we know that culture is made up of many elements – visible and invisible, and without reigniting the nature vs nurture argument, how we learn is an integral part of growing up, and is inherited from the way in which our parents, initially and later teachers, colleagues and friends, pass on information and encourage us to process it.

“….(for) Asian learners group solidarity is important, we will try to emphasize group work in which the group, rather than the individual, is at the core of the activity. If we find that Hispanic learners profit more from concepts presented globally rather than analytically, we will try to ensure that each new topic is contextualized so that they get the whole picture first. If we become aware that Islamic students value oral repetition, we will ensure that, especially at the start, this approach is included in some way or other in what we do in the classroom”

Why is this important? First of all, it’s important to me, because if I am talking to a group about intercultural communication, I will need to adapt what I say and HOW I present the material to the audience, based on the cultures represented. The activities that we do will have to be modified further to encompass the preferences of each. Looking at the quotation above, it will be important to ensure that an Egyptian delegate has the opportunity to repeat verbally key learning points, whereas a Norwegian may be more content to write it down, or read it. On the other hand, a Japanese learner will find it more important to concentrate on the elements of the training that improves his/her group; but an American or British learner will be looking to develop his or her personal skills primarily, in the hope that these will bring a business return eventually.

As always when dealing with people from other cultures, it is important not to over generalise. One of the functions of formal education is to broaden our range of learning style, and to help us accept information in a wider range of sources and formats.

I don’t think it’s possible to say that “Culture A” is a predominantly Learning Style “B” culture, however I think it is not too far from the truth to state that people from culture “B” might be more receptive to an approach that focuses more on Learning Style “C”. As usual, more research needs to be done to fatten this theory up a little, but all comments as always appreciated.

1 comment:

RennyBA said...

Hello from Norway, I'm here from Blogging to Fame - thanks for faming me. You are listed on my BTF post of course!

You really have an interesting blog and this post is very readable. Culture awareness is of course more and more important in the globalism economy. If you like to know more about Norwegian culture and traditions, your always welcome over:-)