Understanding Asian Learners and their Learning Behaviour

Principal Lecturer at TMC Academy School of Business and Law, Mr Raymond Loh, shares an extract of his academic research on Asian learners and their learning behaviour that was recently presented at the University of Northampton Partnership Conference in September.

Mr. Raymond

My. Raymond Loh
Principal Lecturer, School of Business and Law

The role play by culture in influencing students in their learning cannot be underestimated. Studies have concluded that Asian students tend to be passive learners whereby they seldom participate actively in class discussions. To facilitate students in their learning, while various teaching strategies can be used, it may seem futile if one were to disregard the role of culture which has a strong influence in the way students learn. To investigate further, a survey was conducted on 80 students in a local private education institution. The survey result suggested culture does have some influence on students’ learning. Though culture tend to be relatively stable, shift in culture influence do occur over time.  This is especially so if students have been away for some time from their home country, would the influence of their home country culture been diluted? To answer this, the next few questions perhaps will path the way to address some of the concern. What does the result of the survey reveal? Does the survey result fit into the discussions on the above various literature and assumptions with regard to Asian students’ learning styles? The following analysis will provided more insight into Asian students learning.


The overall results of the survey and analysis indicated cultural elements that characterises Asian society which include collectivism, relatively high power distance and masculinity where students prefer teachers undertake an active role in their learning. In addition, learning often extends outside of classroom and trusting teachers as their primary source of help. Teachers are also quite highly respected and authority not to be challenge. Due to “group society”, it is no surprise that students welcome small group learning especially for students who are shy where they seek security from fellow classmates. Academic results and performance are important to satisfy students own goal and also self-esteem as well especially among friends and teachers. On the other hand, the survey result point to students preferring assignment based assessment and the willingness to ask questions seem to depart from the literature writings that Asian students are passive. A possible explanation is a large majority of students have left their home country to study abroad for several years with exposures of different society although still predominately Asian based (Singapore), mass media and other students learning styles may have changed the otherwise strong influence in their home country.


Moving forward, if efforts are to be made to bridge learning gaps and encourage active, deep and independent learning, blending both Asian and Western educational system (independent learning, active participation and critical thinker) may yield even a “win-win” situation. Student-centered approach where students where students are active learners and teachers would be more of a facilitator and coach is the way to go through as we progress into 21st century education. An understanding of culture facilitates teachers to adapt the learning strategies that will motivate instead of demotivate students.  For instance, teachers could make a gradual shift in learning strategies. Teachers could better reach out to students since they have a closer and more trusting relationship with students.


A number of learning strategies are suggested and discussed to enable a shift towards student-centric learning:


Clarification pause. Instructor pause for a short while after concept or explanation has been made. This is to allow students to digest taught materials and possibly provide space for students to ask questions in areas of doubt (Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 1991).


Short quiz or review questions. The questions can be given after a certain lesson materials have been taught. This allows instructors to gauge the level of understanding, clarify doubts which may arise from time to time, identify those students who are unsure of or not paying attention during lesson (Faust & Paulson, 1998).


Students’ summary of other students’ answers. The purpose is to facilitate active learning and learning is a shared process. In addition, it also compelled students to be more attentive when another student is providing the answers. The student who summarise another students’ answers would usually ask for clarification. This allow answers to be repeated which could benefit those students who did not understand when answers were initially given (Faust & Paulson, 1998).


Think-pair share. Some students are not too comfortable in a group setting when it comes to discussions or solving case studies. A better non-intimidating way to help students familiar with working in group is the use of “think-pair’ share” where instead of collaborating in groups of four students, student are pair with another student. Teachers may allow the pairing to be decided by the students initially and in subsequent pair sharing, the teachers would select and pair students up.


Probing questions: during group or team discussion, teacher should walk round each group to listen to their discussion and to stimulate critical thinking, probing or dialectic questions could be posed to students. In addition, probing question could also be asked when teacher randomly select students and put to students.


Teachers provide prompt feedback. At all times, teacher need to provide prompt feedback after each answer has been given. Studies have shown that students could learn better when prompt feedback is being to students as the immediacy of the response promotes learning (Shimazoe and Aldrich, 2010).


Team assignments, where appropriate, team assignment can be used. One of the main issue encounters with the team assignment is the contribution of each student are never equal. The more hardworking student usually would end of contributing most compare to other students. Smith (2000) suggested the following steps. Keep the group size to within four students, assign roles to each student ether being held responsible for each question, ask students to explain the concept or possible answers to question, teacher to observe team discussion and each student to write on the entire assignment.


Peer review is used whereby a few students come together and work on a single assignment. When group marks are awarded, peer review can be used where each student would assess fellow students contributing and deserving marks (usually percentage of the marks awarded by teacher, say 80% or 100%). Each student is to agree on the marks allotted by signing an agreement form.


Written by:
Mr Raymond Loh
Principal Lecturer, School of Business and Law