Who have better learning styles - East Asian and Australian students?

Tommy Tang and Jeremy Williams

Queensland University of Technology

There is considerable research evidence (e.g. Biggs 1991, Watkins et al 1990, Kember et al 1991) to suggest that East Asian learners exhibit superior learning styles and academic performance to their western counterparts at secondary and tertiary levels. This is a surprising outcome given the less favourable educational environment of most East Asian societies (such as large class size, expository teaching methodology, highly competitive exam system and exam-oriented curriculum) which, according to educational literature, is more conducive to surface learning and atomistic learning outcome. This seemingly contradictory situation, known as the Chinese Learner Paradox (Marton et al, 1993), has been the subject of quantitative and qualitative educational researches since the late 1980s. However, existing research has tended not to examine the impacts of different assessment regimes (i.e. Exam essay, short answer question, MCQ test, term essay, reflective journal, practicum etc) on the learning process. More specifically, they did not investigate the interaction of learning approaches with assessment types in influencing learning outcomes in cross-cultural studies. Scouller (1998) in a non cross-cultural study, for example, has shown that assessment types not only influence students' perceptions of learning, but also there are interesting correlations with the effectiveness of learning approaches.

In this study intensive semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 tertiary students, consisting of 5 East Asian and 5 local Australian students in Brisbane, the overriding aim being to investigate their ideas of learning, and their approaches to learning for written assignments and for exams, to establish whether cultural difference is a determining influence on the learning process. Preliminary results suggest that the usual deep/surface distinction cannot capture the variations of approaches to learning for examination, and doubt is also cast on the cross-cultural validity of student learning process inventories.


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Biggs, J.B. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32, 347-364.

Kember, D., & Gow, L. (1991). A challenge to the anecdotal stereotype of the Asian learner. Studies in Higher Education, 16 (2), 117-128.

Marton, F., Dall'Alba, G. & Lai, K.T (1993). The paradox of the Chinese Learner. Occasional Paper 93.1 ERADU, RMIT.

Scouller, K. (1998). The influence of assessment method on students' learning approaches: MCQ exam versus assignment essay. Higher Education.

Watkins, D. & Regmi, M. (1990). An investigation of the approach to learning of Nepalese tertiary students. Higher Education, 20, 459-469.

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