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Understanding and teaching the Chinese learner: Resolving the paradox of the Chinese learner


Kember, D, Understanding and teaching the Chinese learner: Resolving the paradox of the Chinese learner, The Psychology of Asian Learners: A Festschrift in Honor of David Watkins, Springer, RB King and ABI Bernardo (ed), Singapore, pp. 173-187. ISBN 978-981-287-575-4 (2016) [Research Book Chapter]

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Copyright 2016 Springer Science+Business Media Singapore

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DOI: doi:10.1007/978-981-287-576-1_11


I started working in Hong Kong in 1987. David Watkins arrived at the University of Hong Kong shortly after. At the time there were some very negative perceptions of the way Chinese students approached learning tasks, but little in the way of credible research into the topic. This chapter tries to tell the story of how a better understanding was gained of the body of research which was often referred to as the ‘paradox of the Chinese learner’. Chinese students were perceived as employing learning approaches which had been associated with poor learning outcomes in Western research. Yet international comparison studies showed Chinese students performing very well.

A group in Hong Kong were interested in gaining a better understanding of Hong Kong students through research following the students’ approaches to learning paradigm. Much of the research aimed to improve student learning outcomes through helping teachers design teaching and learning in such a way as to promote meaningful learning outcomes. This brings in the chapter’s second focus of teaching the Chinese learner, which gives the chapter a practical focus as the insights gained from the research should help teachers better understand how to bring out the positive side of Chinese, and possibly other Asian, learners.

Two strands of evidence are advanced to explain the paradox. Research in Hong Kong and China has uncovered evidence of a set of approaches to learning, intermediate between pure surface and deep approaches, which combine memorisation and understanding. Observations of Chinese students apparently attempting to memorise material could have been misinterpreted as rote memorisation, when in fact the memorisation was combined with attempts to reach understanding and was therefore not a surface approach. When Chinese students do employ a surface approach, it is likely to be a response to perceptions of contextual factors in the teaching and learning environment, rather than as a characteristic of a cultural group or a predominant regional trait.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Keywords:Chinese learner, approaches to learning, memorisation, understanding
Research Division:Education
Research Group:Curriculum and pedagogy
Research Field:Curriculum and pedagogy theory and development
Objective Division:Education and Training
Objective Group:Learner and learning
Objective Field:Learner and learning not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Kember, D (Professor David Kember)
ID Code:104909
Year Published:2016
Deposited By:Education
Deposited On:2015-11-25
Last Modified:2018-01-09

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