Exporting Higher Education: Teaching and Learning in Asia
Cultural values and their relationship to how people think, behave – and learn – is a subject of enduring debate. There is general agreement that the notion of Confucian Heritage Cultures defines something meaningful and distinctive, and that it is pervasive throughout South-East Asia. To some scholars, this Heritage has produced a learning style which some believe sufficiently definitive that teaching styles and activities should be adjusted to match it. Zhenhui (2001) identifies teacher-centric expectations as a dominant characteristic of East Asians, enough to warrant the advice that "teachers change their own styles and strategies and provide a variety of activities to meet the needs of different learning styles."
Others see the such generalizations and prescriptions as dangerously simplistic. Jones (1999) claims that the "deficit model of the Chinese learner as one who is unable to adjust to Western academic patterns both spoken and written is flawed."
The key word is "adjust." It suggests adaptation and change over time, which is the crucial aspect. The strategic resolution to the debate is simply to assume that prior experience of learning within an Asian culture will tend shape student expectations in certain directions – but not to assume that those directions are so deeply fixed as to be unchangeable. In fact, with the right activities and the right support, comfort levels with a new learning style may grow rapidly. For Transnational instructional design, the implications are clear: Acknowledge the culturally-related expectations and proceed from there, providing scaffolding for unfamiliar modes of learning.