Personal Interaction and Informal Learning: The Case of China

Personal Interaction and Informal Learning: The Case of China

Kin Wai Michael Siu (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China) and Giovanni J. Contreras (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8265-8.ch010
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Although the importance of casual and spontaneous personal interaction in informal learning is generally well acknowledged, less is known about which world regions or countries have cultures of personal interaction that foster these characteristics. This information is important because without it policymakers struggle to select appropriate actions to improve learning and education. In this case study of China, the authors investigate the characteristics of personal interaction there and consider their effects on informal learning. They present a systematic reflection on the literature about the culture of personal interaction in China and how these interaction practices facilitate informal learning. China is strongly influenced by Confucianism, which with other cultural practices such as guanxi (??), shapes personal relations in unique ways that have important implications for informal learning. The authors hope that this analysis sets a precedent for future studies about China and other parts of the world.
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Although past studies have highlighted the importance of personal relations for informal learning and some have addressed its relationship with culture, perhaps because informal learning is still a relatively unexplored field (Cullen et al., 2000) and most theories about and research into it have been developed in Western countries (Kim & McLean, 2014), we still lack studies that show how specific characteristics of personal interaction in different parts of the world affect informal learning.

In this chapter, we aim to describe the main characteristics of personal relations in China and analyse their implications for personal interaction and informal learning. As, like most East Asian countries, China contains a unique mixture of cultural values and practices that influence the way people interact with each other, we believe that it can serve as good example to illustrate how a region’s culture can shape informal learning in unique ways. Based on the literature about Chinese culture, we identify the main characteristics of personal interaction in China, outline their cultural causes and synthesise them into a model upon which their effects on informal learning can be discussed. Finally, we suggest possible ways to overcome any potential downsides.


According to Schugurensky (2000) and Livingstone (1999), formal education is education provided through official institutions that is usually mandatory up to a certain level. Informal education comprises all other forms of education outside the official system but still involving people acting as tutors and students, and some kind of curriculum. Informal learning on the other hand is all other learning that takes place outside of both the formal education system and any form of non-formal education.

In this paper, we use Livingstone’s definition and the taxonomy proposed by Schugurensky (2000) to build the scheme presented in Figure 1 (By Authors), which serves as a framework for this study. Whether taken as originally proposed or as later expanded (Bennett, 2012), it seems that the taxonomy proposed by Schugurensky (2000) remains the most useful classification of informal learning. According to this taxonomy, informal learning can be classified using two criteria: intentionality and consciousness. This results in three or four different categories (Schugurensky, 2000; Bennett, 2012). However given that all learning can be conscious and/or unconscious, we propose a scheme in which informal learning is categorised simply as either intentional (self-driven) or unintentional (incidental).

Figure 1.

Learning scheme based on Livingstone (1999) and Schugurensky (2000)

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