Learning Styles of Distance Learners in Japan: Cultural Considerations – abstract and a review

By Kumiko Aoki, PhD
National Institute of Multimedia Education

Abstract: Distance education in Japan has a unique history and regulatory framework different from that of most Western countries. There have been discussions and studies on differences between Japanese and Western people in terms of their learning styles, reflecting their cultural and societal differences. E-learning, a mode of distance education in which the Internet is utilized extensively in the instructional delivery as well as interaction between teahchers and students or among students, is spreading in the global market of higher education mainly from English-speaking countries. This paper will introduce the history and current status of distance education and e-learning in Japan, discuss characteristics of the learning styles of Japanese students in general, and consider the most appropriate methods and instruments to measure learning styles of distance learners or e-learners in Japan in order to explore the effect of learning styles on the learners’ satsifaction with their learning environments.


This paper offers a concise and decent introduction on the history and current status of distance education and e-learning in Japan, and makes an important point that the distance learning programs grew out of the strong tradition of correspondence courses via  the postal system which is still much mainstream form of distance education in Japan and that e-learning has been slower to develop nor has it been able to overtake those traditional correspondence programs.
This paper offers its most interesting insights on the differences in cultural traits (that influence learning styles) of distance learners  in Japan vs. distance learners in the US and elsewhere.

Some of the observations I found to be interesting were as follows:
– J. tend towards more “reflective observation” and “concrete experience”  vs the US more to abstract thought and active learning styles;
** J. tend to prefer concrete sequential learning, which like uncertainty avoidance  is linked to a preference for clear guidelines and goals, concrete performance and strict planning in a sequential manner
– Social anxiety is highest for J. students – out of 18 countries comparison – this anxiety is closely tied to the uncertainty avoidance trait
– “The educational implications of Japan being a high anxiety avoidant culture are that students would tend to prefer well structured educational experiences, clearly explained assignments and course requirements. High anxiety students can be very concerned with getting the “right answers” than with discussing “shades of grey”.”  (The article discusses the possible implications this has for distance learning programs do not provide face to face contact opportunities …and that instructors needed to promptly respond to student input given the immediacy of e-learning)
– The article attributes the J. traits to be the result of the strong orientation of students towards prep for university entrance exams.
– One particularly surprising finding was that J. learners were found to be only moderately collectivist – whereas other Asian distance learning students complained that they were unable to meet and make friends, Japanese students were found to prefer individual learning over group learning – J. favor a Diverging Learning Style   [divergent” thinking. Here the student’s skill is in broadly creative elaboration of ideas prompted by a stimulus, and is more suited to artistic pursuits and study in the humanities.]
– J. students’ strong appreciation of the teacher’s role (Confucian thinking at work) – including the importance of moral and character input of teacher – makes for a more passive student rather than active learner centred student.
– J. students tendency to prefer well structured learning environments with strong learning direction and active peer interaction and the correspondence school model of distance learning which is the dominant form of distance learning education in Japan at the moment satisfies the need for a well structured learning environment – but the distance education system also provides little opportunity for teacher-student or peer interaction and it requires a high level of motivation to complete the course successfully. The article notes that as distance education and e-learning may not suit some learning style preferences and that more research is required on distant learners’ learning styles in Japan before it can be ascertained whether the e-learning environment would be a good match for Japanese distance learners and how to further develop these systems.
If you like this paper, you might also like the following related resources:

Slide show by Steve McCarty entitled Overcoming Face-to-Face Dependence in Distance Education: Gender and Cultural Considerations has more in this vein.  He noted that the article “Japanese Culture meets online education” Educom Review Volume 34, No. 3 (1999) introduces Japan as a very face-to-face oriented culture, which means the men as well as the women. The lack of essential face to face rituals would mean that not being able to meet in person would be a great barrier for Japanese people to join online courses.
Steve McCarty also gives more pointers such as since online education is taken advantage of more by women than men (over 60%) “In online education there is a need to make courses female-friendly, to make rules such as Netiquette to avoid male dominace and silencing of women by encouraging the female communication sytle. That is, instead of cold logic and confrontation, online gorups actually need the community building by female moderation and maintaint smooth personal relationships.”
Johnson, Doug (2009, Feb, 06). Seven brilliant things teachers do with technology. Education world, http://www.education-world.com
Poole, B (2009, Mar 05). Ten pillars of successful technology implementation. Education World, http://education-world.com
Schrum, L (2000). Technology as a tool to support instruction. Education World, http://www.education-world.com

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