When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object: Chinese students learning in the UK university system

Yvonne Turner

University of Hertfordshire

The aim of the paper is to assess the extent to which implicit theories of learning, developed through previous experience in known cultural educational environments, support or obstruct the occurrence of deep learning in a cross-cultural setting. It examines the experiences of students from the People's Republic of China studying at degree level both in the UK and in a UK-franchised degree programme in Beijing.

In a preliminary discussion, the paper examines the educational methodology of the State Chinese education system against actual provision, and explores cultural differences and similarities in interpretation of the purpose of Higher Education in China and the UK. Through analysis of interview and questionnaire data from Chinese students, the paper investigates the implicit theories of learning that Chinese students bring to the Higher education experience compared to the theories of teaching and learning implicit in the UK Higher Education.

The paper explores specific learning areas including perceptions about the nature of the learning process and attitudes towards a range of teaching and assessment methods, such as group-working, in-course assignments and examinations. It concludes that students from China approach learning in the UK system with a culturally different learning style from that of British-educated students, and find it difficult to conceptualize learning as defined in the UK model. Students motivation to "succeed" is such, however, that they are able to "satisfice" requirements in the UK teaching model in order to be successful in the assessment environment, without necessarily engaging deeply with the learning process.

The paper argues that this ability represents an aspect of a technocentric "learning style" inherent in the Chinese model of education and is highly developed in Chinese students' approach to learning. Students' dominant learning style is more attuned to the development of techniques and structures that enable learning than deep exploration of subject content - i.e. Chinese students have a learning style focused on "learning the rules for learning".

The paper proposes that this approach to learning may not inhibit the development of deep learning in the long term, since the development of learning frameworks enable learning to subsequently take place. It identifies the requirement, however, for the use of culturally neutral teaching and assessment methods in the UK system in order to equally value the range of learning perspectives possessed by an increasingly diverse student body.

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