Culture And Learning Styles There seems to be a great deal written

There seems to be a great deal written about needs analyses being the starting point for the development of a curriculum for a course of study and many curriculum development projects indeed begin that way. On the other hand, there seems to be relatively little recognition that individuals learn in very different ways and rarely is any attempt made to ascertain the learning styles of individual students or a particular cohort of students prior to commencement of a course of study or learning program and to fashion a program’s learning processes to be congruent with learner’s preferred learning styles. Even a brief consideration of learning styles makes their importance crystal clear.

There is some literature on preferred learning styles as these pertain to individuals, albeit within a Western cultural context (especially Kolb and Baker, 1980 and Honey and Mumford, 1995), but there appears to be very little extant literature on differences in learning styles which are ethnically, culturally or state-based. Indeed most writings seem to assume that individual learners from around the world learn in a similar way. That is just not so. Teaching experiences in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, as well as in the West (Canada, USA and Australia), suggest that there are marked differences in the learning styles and learning preferences within different cultures and among individuals within these cultures. A few important definitions are in order:

Culture refers to … “the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only arts and letters but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of human beings, value systems, traditions and beliefs.” (Key Concepts, The ESSD Network) And, Living Culture or expressive culture refers to the … “social practices, community life, values and beliefs, as well as, expressive forms such as language, arts and handicrafts, music, dance, poetry and literature.”

(Key concepts, The ESSD Network)

“A learning style is the unique collection of individual skills and preferences that affect how a person perceives, gathers and processes information. Learning styles affects how a person: acts in a group, learns, participates in activities, relates to others, solves problems, teaches, and works.”

(Lingual Links Library Home Page)

Some cultures have a high respect for teachers, others less so; in some cultures, teachers are regarded as omniscient and infallible, in others not; in some cultures teachers are never to be questioned; in others, it is normal to question teachers. In some cultures, it is thought that knowledge within the classroom comes only from the teacher and or textbooks and that there is no place for peer group learning.

In many cultures around the world, groups- family groups, work groups, social groups and women’s groups are very important. Formal learning in groups, in these cultures, seems a logical extension. Many types of learning groups are possible for collaborative learning. The most common are ‘friendship groups’ and ‘task groups’ and the interactions and effectiveness can vary greatly. Seating arrangements are very important when students are working in groups, and when they are in the traditional classroom. In some cultures, personal space is of paramount consideration and, in some, table ‘modesty covers’ are used.

In some cultures, especially the western developed cultures, heavy emphasis is given to the written word. Other cultures, such as Latin American, Sub-Saharan and East Asian, place great importance on the spoken word. Frequently, knowledge is passed on from one generation to another via narratives, proverbs, poetry, and song. In many of the poorer, mainly oral cultures, schooling is conducted with the use of very few books if any and practices such recitation, singing, role-playing are very important. A major reason for poor literacy levels stems from the heavy reliance upon oral communication. Levels of oracy are often very high where literacy levels are low. While many societies are heavily communal in nature, many western societies, exemplified in the urban conurbation of the eastern United States, emphasize a culture which places great store on the individual.

In addition, according to Maruyama (1974) people have a natural disposition to function as hierarchists, mutualists or individualists and this will affect the way in which they function in society in general and in a learning situation in particular.

We have for a long time been aware of different theories of learning and that these are not equally well regarded or accepted universally. At the present time in Western educational thinking, constructivist theories of learning are very much at the forefront of discussion although evidence suggests that in practice didactic approaches are still dominant in most areas of education. In order for constructivism to function, learner’s preferred styles and preferences of learning are significant for it is important for teacher to understand the circumstances under which each student is able to construct their own knowledge and come to their own understanding. In such areas as Northern Africa, the Gulf region of the Middle East and East Asia, educational practice is less informed by constructivist practices and didactic modes of instruction are clearly dominant in primary, secondary and tertiary educational sectors.

Long before constructivism was discussed in relation to learning, student centered learning was widely written about and many teachers and administrators were adamant that what they were engaged in was student centered learning. If learning is to be student centered, then student’s preferred learning styles need to be a major consideration in program development.

In recent decades there has been an increasing role in the use of technology in education. In the same way as there are preferred learning styles in the classroom, there have also developed clear preferences for the use of specific technology-based distributed learning (T-BDL) technologies based upon individual’s preferred learning styles and various cultural parameters. We will leave for the future a paper which explores some of the relationships between cultural characteristics, learning styles and preferences toward the use of T-BDL technologies.


Honey, P. and Mumford, Alan, Learning Styles Questionnaire, USA: Organization Design and Development, Inc, 1995

Key Concepts, The ESSD Network http://essd/essd/sdv/sdvhome.nsf/Basic/Cultural/KeyConcepts/' OpenView

Kolb, David A. and Richard J. Baker, “Personal Learning Guide” Texas: Baker and Company, 1979/80

Lingual Links Library Home Page 676.htm

Maruyama, M, Futures, 1974