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Seven Styles of Learning;



Where we look at cultural forces.

In a previous article I looked at Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Here, I expand a bit and look at how we are influenced by culture, the original, and ultimate, teacher.

Culture, is the device we use to evolve and to give to the next generation whatever survival techniques we've learned. Culture, that is, the tool itself, is learned; it is THE means by which we adapt. The traditions of cultural institutions are thousands of years old, and weighty.

Most cultural constructs are covert and hidden beneath a veneer of overt behaviors. (Overt examples: dress, food, housing; covert examples: beauty, justice.) The issue has been liken to an iceberg - what we don't see is what's truly dangerous.

An example, the concept of TIME and attitudes toward its role in life and society is arguably the single most divisive cultural construct. It's not just the rules of formality (or lack thereof), or even punctuality. Some cultures are simply not enslaved by TIME. This may eventually change with the new technologies; it has not changed yet.

Frequently in these high context, societies there is a time gap between an event and a response. People who come from societies where 'time is of the essence' assume that if nothing happens immediately, nothing is ever going to happen. Usually, this is far from the truth. (For a discussion of how this works in, Mexico, as an example, see: Castaneda, 1995.)

When it comes to education, most of what we read/hear these days has to do with WHO is educated, to what extent 'quality' is/is not apparent, and how obvious inequities can be eliminated, or softened. We don't pay much attention to the role that education plays in the formation of our ability to identify with our cultural or ethnic group. I submit for your consideration, and thought, this notion: Education formal, non-formal, and informal, in a multicultural society, is the interface between cultures.

Let's briefly look at the person who learns best by asking questions. This person learns best when provided with opportunities to classify, categorize, work with abstractions and their relationship to one another.

In some societies, specifically those characterized as high context (place great emphasis on ambiance, decorum, status of the participants, and manner of delivery; low context cultures ignore these events--emphasizing content in a communication - sometimes expressed as 'cut to the chase').

In the first setting, the learner is expected to KNOW --questioning is not always considered acceptable behavior. (Hall, 1976, 1983. Winters, 1994 b) Challenging the teacher, or other authority figure, is frequently considered anti-social behavior.

How does this information influence preparing learning material? Is it appropriate to downplay learning via questioning because very few learners will select this style?

On another note; some cultures have very specific ideas and values attached to certain colors. For example:


Blue Ghana: Joy Native American/Hopi: Sacred


Yellow North America: Caution China: Wealth<br>


White Europe/North America: Purity/weddings Many countries in Asia: Death/mourning


Another example: in China, various pieces of furniture and other items in a day care/kindergarten environment, have two handles. It's not possible to move an object without assistance. This teaches that getting things done requires cooperation, a main value of that society. Also, that individual action is not always productive.

Should we address these issues? How can we speak to the capacity of humans to absorb, analyze, synthesize--learn and consider in these culturally specific ways? With the collaborative assistance of the microcultures that comprise humanity, we can do it.

In our differences there is unlimited strength.


Castaneda, J. G., 1995, Ferocious Differences. in: The Atlantic Monthly, July, 1995. pp 68-76.

Gardner, H., 1983. Frames of mind. New York: Basic Books 1991.The unschooled mind : how children think and how schools should teach. New York : BasicBooks

Hall, E. T., 1976. Beyond Culture. Garden City, N.Y. Anchor Press/Doubleday. 1983. The Dance of Life. Garden City, N.Y. Anchor Press/Doubleday <p> Winters, E., 1994 a. The New Technologies and Communication In Performance and Instruction, v33, n9.

1994 b.Cultural Issues in Communicating. In STC, November, 1995

(c) 1997 Elaine Winters All rights reserved; permission to reproduce by any means is granted only in writing. To contact Ms. Winters, visit her Web site at or send her an email.

About the Author: This is Elaine's third article for the web site. Her other articles are:

Information organization for the Post-Modem audience

Audience, Content, and some personal observations on the Development Process

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