Did You Teach to Each?

In a recent article in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Kolb and Joy (2009) investigated whether there are cultural differences in learning styles. Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (LSI) was tested on participants from seven nations. The inventory provides scores for two dimensions: (1) from abstract conceptualization to concrete experience and (2) from active experimentation to reflective observation.

The following cultural factors were found to impact learning styles. Collectivism, future orientation, and gender egalitarianism correlated with a preference for abstract conceptualization over concrete experience. The effect of culture was significant. The seven nations are situated on the scale as follows:


A preference for reflective observation over active experimentation was correlated with the cultural factors of uncertainty avoidance and assertiveness; the effect, however, was only marginal. Age and area of specialization had more impact.

The authors argue that, in the first years of higher education, before discipline-specific conditioning has taken root, culture-based differences may be especially pronounced, and that instructors should make sure to design learning situations that take into account cultural differences in learning styles.

How do you teach to each?


Joy, S., & Kolb, D. A. (2009). Are there cultural differences in learning style? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 33(1), 69-85.

For descriptions of commonly cited cultural dimensions, see Hofstede and Trompenaars/Hampden-Turner.

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3 Responses to Did You Teach to Each?

  1. glennpetersen says:

    At the risk of sounding like even more of a curmudgeon than I actually am, I have to point out that in the anthropology courses I’ve been teaching for nearly two-thirds of my life I continually emphasize the great variability in traits or patterns within cultures, and especially the importance of contradictory tendencies within cultural patterns. And in my geography and international affairs courses I stress the wide range of cultures within most modern nation-states. There is, of course, a degree of sophistication about these things in the article Elisabeth cites, but it remains rooted in an approach that makes what I think are counter-productive generalizations about cultural impacts on individuals.

    I tried some years ago to get a discussion going on cultural differences in English as a Second Language writing skills, as a way of targeting specific sorts of help I might give my students, and got nowhere, so I may be a bit cynical about this. But I think it would be a good thing for us to pursue this further. What do other folks on this blog think about the relevance to Baruch of so-called cultural differences in learning styles?

  2. Arthur Lewin says:

    These are two great questions, Elisabeth and Glenn. Looking at the list it would “seem” that Singapore and Germany are near to the top of the abstract conceptualization scale because they “seem” to be more proficient at (mathematical) logic. And Brazil and Italy at the bottom (or at the top of the concrete experience side) because they “seem” to have more expressive cultures.

    The abstract is the more preferred in academia, note it is at the top of this list. Ironically, it is currently the vogue in avant garde math studies to emphasize hands on searching for mathematical concepts rather than merely presenting formulae. And if I am not mistaken business courses are increasingly turning to group projects that provide hands on experience, and this is what the marketplace is looking for in business grads.

    It would seem that a good mixture of abstract and concrete learning styles is the way to go. And it would seem that since different students have different styles, each could contribute in different ways to the overall goal of learning.

  3. Kyra Gaunt says:

    Wanted to post a blog/article on global competencies that is definitely relevant to this post but goes to the global studies concerns that Dean Peck and several faculty have been engaged in. I was asked to be a blogger for the teaching blog but I lost the invitation. Please contact me again.

    In the meantime, here is the article:

    Deliberating about the meaning of “global competence” in a public US university
    June 18, 2009 by globalhighered


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