Cross-Cultural Differences in Learning Style and Learning Skills: A Comparison of Japan, Thailand, and the USA

Cross-Cultural Differences in Learning Style and Learning Skills: A Comparison of Japan, Thailand, and the USA

Yoshitaka Yamazaki (Bunkyo University, Japan), Michiko Toyama (Bunkyo University, Japan) and Thitiwat Attrapreyangkul (Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna, Thailand)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3776-2.ch008


This chapter aimed to understand how learning style and learning skills differ among three countries—Japan, Thailand, and the United States—as viewed through Kolb's experiential learning theory. The study consisted of 300 undergraduates, with 100 freshmen from each country. Results indicated that Japanese students depended the most on a feeling mode rather than a thinking mode, followed by Thai students; Americans, in contrast, strongly preferred to learn from a thinking mode. Of the 12 learning skills analyzed, nine differed by both learning style (converging or diverging) and country, while three were affected only by country. Thais showed the highest level of most learning skills, Americans were in the middle, and Japanese exhibited the lowest level of all 12 skills. A converging learning style influenced learning skill development more than a diverging learning style. This study offers theoretical and practical implications.
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Globalization increasingly requires higher education institutions to teach their students the skills and knowledge necessary to address cross-cultural issues and to becomea global talent in a dynamic global context (Stewart, 2012). Because global businesspersons have to work effectively with their host and third country’s partners in intercultural situations (Adler & Gundersen, 2008), an important role of the university is to help students learn about their international counterparts within a class or more broadly inside or outside their campus. Clearly, student opportunities for cross-cultural learning are growing. According to reports from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2013), the number of students studying abroad more than doubled between 2000 and 2011 and tripled between 1990 and 2011. The rate of international students continues to increase at all levels of higher education (OECD, 2015), which enhances the possibility for cross-cultural interactions and learning opportunities. With this background, it is crucial to understand the effect of different cultural backgrounds on learning.

Research on how different people perceive and behave across countries is not new. For example, in the context of employees, Hofstede (1997) proposed cultural dimensions based on values and beliefs in countries, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1998) revealed various cultural management classifications, and House et al. (2004) presented cultural leadership categorizations. When considering the context of universities as learning environments, it seems important to understand how learning styles or approaches differ based on students’ cultures and countries. Although it is known that learning style varies with countries and cultures (see Auyeung & Sand, 1996; Barmeyer, 2004; Heffernan et al., 2010; Joy & Kolb, 2009; Yamazaki, 2005; Yamazaki & Kayes, 2010), few studies have been conducted on undergraduates’ learning styles across countries, except for Auyeung and Sand’s (1996) comparative examination of Australian and Chinese accounting undergraduates, Barmeyer’s (2004) research that investigated French, German, and Quebec undergraduates, and a more recent study conducted by Heffernan et al. (2010) comparing Australian and Chinese students in an Australian university.Because formation of a learning style is influenced by contextual differences,such as educational background, career choice (Kolb, 1984; Kolb & Kolb, 2005), and career stages (Yamazaki & Umemura, 2017), it is meaningful to focus on the context of undergraduates’ learning environmentsas a particular context when examining cross-cultural learning styles.Accordingly, this study sought to understand undergraduates’ learning style differences across cultures and countries.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Abstract Conceptualization (AC): A learning ability or mode that requires thinking or conceptualizing when learning from experience.

Abstract Conceptualization Minus Concrete Experience (AC– CE): An individual’s relative preference for learning in a dialectical learning dimension: either the abstract conceptualization (AC) mode or the concrete experience (CE) mode.

Concrete Experience (CE): A learning ability or mode that requires feeling or sensing when learning from experience.

Learning Style: An individual’s preferred or comfortable approach to learning, corresponding with four fundamental forms: an accommodating learning style, diverging learning style, assimilating learning style, or converging learning style.

Active Experimentation Minus Reflective Observation (AE– RO): An individual’s relative preference for learning in a dialectical learning dimension: either the active experimentation (AE) mode or the reflective observation (RO) mode.

Active Experimentation (AE): A learning ability or mode that requires taking action concerning the idea or concept made by the abstract conceptualization (AC) mode.

Reflective Observation (RO): A learning ability or mode that requires reflecting or observing on immediate experiences grasped by concrete experience (CE).

Learning Skill: An individual’s adaptive competency required to deal with a specific and situational matter.

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