5 Differences Between Eastern and Western Learning Styles

There are different styles of learning in Eastern and Western cultures, often very distinct approaches towards learning and education.

Though Eastern and Western countries have contrasting educational systems, it’s not to say one is superior over the other. There is much to be reflected on within both systems, in turn understanding the cultures, beliefs and philosophies that underpin approaches in classrooms and universities.

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I went to school in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia, and my learning experience in South-East Asia was vastly different compared to Down Under. My classmates, teachers and face-to-face learning in these countries were like chalk and cheese. More recently, this year I am doing an online writing course which is a whole other learning experience altogether.

Learning can be defined as ‘the activity or process of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something.’ You learn the basics of language, numbers and science at school. You gain more specialised knowledge at university. Then there is learning outside of the classroom through socialising, traveling, life lessons and experiences.

Different people and cultures learn differently, and so naturally there are different approaches to learning as a student in particularly within formal educational settings. Here are some differences between Eastern and Western learning styles (with a focus on South-East Asia vs Australia in this piece) in the context of schools and universities.

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1. Learning is a ‘struggle’

Eastern and Western cultures define ‘struggle’ differently when it comes to learning. In Eastern cultures, there is the emphasis that learning and studying is a serious activity. When you struggle throughout a subject or course, then it is considered that you are actually learning. Confucianism is rooted in many Eastern societies and the virtues of moral righteousness, filial piety and loyalty highly influence their education systems.

Dr Jin Li compares learning concepts in her book Cultural Foundations of Learning: East and West and suggests many Chinese students follow Confucian learning traditions, seeing learning as a means to bring honour to one’s self, family and society. According to Li, for Chinese cultures learning is a life purpose and the purpose of learning is to ‘self-perfect and contribute to others at the same time’ whereas for many Westerners ‘curiosity about the external world is the inspiration for knowledge.’

During secondary school in Singapore, my classmates and I often struggled to get every question in our maths and science classes right. We frantically put our heads together and scribbled steps on paper trying to derive some progress as the teacher waited for the right answers. Shameful not to get the answer right but much pride in intellectual struggle towards eventually get the answer, showcasing a reflection of strength and what your Asian upbringing instilled in you.

When I moved to Australia, secondary school here had a more relaxed approached to learning. If you couldn’t derive the correct answer in class or on a test, it was often seen that you simply weren’t good in that area or an area not of your interest.

2. Creativity vs. science

Some subjects and courses are chosen more over others among different cultures. In Eastern cultures, study choices are often characterised by what’s logical and rational within the learning process and their practical application in life. Studying medicine, accounting and law are often the choices that measure up to parental expectations and peers, the more common pathways to sustainable livelihoods.

In Western cultures, choosing what to study involves more of, ‘What are you interested in? What do you enjoy doing?’ It’s no surprise that there is a wider variety of arts and humanities studies in the Western world.

Creativity is generally a stronger trait among Westerners. When it comes to the more imaginary and visionary interests, expressing creativity and critical thinking is usually harder for those from Eastern cultures.

When I was doing graduate studies in psychology in Australia, one of the assignments involved reflective writing about personal growth. As the tutor explained the assignment, an international student from Vietnam asked, ‘Is there a sample essay we can refer to? To get a better idea?’ To which the Caucasian tutor very bluntly stated matter-of-factly, ‘No. There isn’t. We don’t offer sample essays or templates as we don’t want to stifle creativity.’

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3. Learning habits

Where passive learning is common in Eastern cultures, active learning is encouraged in the West. In collective-oriented Eastern societies, it is respectful to show obedience to seniority: teachers are esteemed with the authority to impart knowledge and listening to the teacher is often the silent rule. Western communities are generally more individualistic driven, more direct about speaking up and so sharing ideas in the classroom is normal.

Rote learning goes hand-in-and with passive learning among South-East Asian students. Repetition and memorisation are often the techniques adopted to get the answers right in class. While this may encourage perseverance to work towards solutions, there tends to be a lack of meaningful learning which entails making connections and understanding how concepts are weaved together.

My mum championed rote learning, insistent that I practised mathematics questions in the revision books until I got each one right. She often went, ‘This is wrong! And this is wrong again! And here is wrong too! Practise again and show me the correct answer!’ And so the writing out of the formulas began again.

4. After-school activities

Keeping up academic productivity is the norm when you’re growing up Asian compared to the typical laid-back Aussie way of life. Attending tuition lessons outside of classes is common in Asian countries. The saying ‘burning the midnight oil’ is used here to refer to staying up late studying, getting all homework, worksheets, exercises and practice tests done.

Learning piano is also highly encouraged as an extra-curricular activity in traditional-minded Asian households: a symbol of prestige, opportunity and something to put on the university application. Or helping out at your parents’ business (e.g. restaurant) after classes.

In contrast with many Caucasians in Australia, juggling a job while you are still at school or university is common. Some do so to get work experience, and others do so to be individually self-reliant and pay student bills (whereas there are well-to-do Asian parents who provide the financial assistance including the tuition fees until you’ve finished university).

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5. Benchmarking and awards

Being at the top of the class is admired within Asian cultures while in Western cultures, the experience of learning is what matters more. For many with strict Asian upbringing, there is often a lot of pressure sitting exams and passing with distinction. It’s akin to the pathway of success and a potential of what else you can potentially achieve.

If you do well enough partway through high school and move abroad to a Western country, you could skip a grade in the Western high school system. It’s also not uncommon for parents in South-East Asian countries to send their children to complete undergraduate or postgraduate studies in Australia, valuing a prestigious Western education that arguably opens more doors.

When you come from a white Australian family, chances are there’s minimal fuss about getting a pass grade across your subjects. There’s more of a focus on the development of soft skills and taking charge of what you actually want to do in life, be it backed by education or other experiences.

My Chinese parents adorn their living room with photos of me in my graduation gown and holding the testamur. Graduating with a degree is something that they are proud of. As dad said, ‘Not everyone has a degree! That’s how you stand out!’

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While learning approaches are shaped by cultural upbringing and beliefs, learning is also very much an individual experience. That is, learning itself is a choice you make – it is up to you if and how you learn. Different people learn differently in varying circumstances, and you may find yourself adopting different learning approaches on different occasions.

When you learn be it at school or later in life, some concepts are harder to grasp while others resonate more with you. Consequently, the path of learning you choose and learning in itself shapes your life, personality and future.

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You learn in school to get educated as you grow up and find your place in the world. You learn out of interest to broaden your horizons later in life, from taking short courses to learn skills in public speaking to googling to learn how to cook. You learn to upskill and bridge knowledge gaps. In Eastern cultures when you’re older, ‘not knowing’ is often seen as a weakness and learning may come from a place of lack and shame. With Western cultures, learning to gain knowledge is seen as curious and resourceful.

When I returned to university and studied psychology out of interest, I shared that with friends and colleagues here in Australia. The most common response I got was, ‘That’s interesting! How is it related to your job?’

Hearing that response, it felt like I had to justify that what I was studying was an investment towards a tangible, practical outcome. People tend to relate choosing to study as a means to an end or else it’s a waste of time. But that’s not how I see learning all the time.

Doing the online course in non-fiction writing this year was something I’ve wanted to do for a while. As a seasoned writer, there’s much for me to learn to take my written work to another level, reaching others on a deeper level to build confidence within cultural identities and the in-between.

My approach to this course draws on both Eastern and Western learning styles. Being an online course, it allows the space to comfortably and quietly learn in silence. Plenty of time to go over each section multiple times to logically and imaginatively understand the material. It is a course that works around time for fun and redrafting my book.

This course is also a chance to invest in myself as a writer. To learn that it’s never too old or late to show up and learn to be the writer that I want to be. When you choose to learn and pursue something that you’re passionate about, you stand out by standing up for yourself.

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As time goes on, learning revolves more around your life and lifestyle: the time and resources that you have to learn, the study options available to you online or offline, and what you really want to learn. And there is much to be thankful for when you do get the opportunity to learn.

Learning with passion leads to growth in many areas and opportunities to make the most of your potentials. There is always something to learn no matter the learning approach you adopt. As Bruce Lee said:

‘Learning is a constant process of discovery – a process without end.’

Do you like learning? What have you recently learned?


135 thoughts on “5 Differences Between Eastern and Western Learning Styles

  1. How interesting that I’m reading this on the day I’m traveling to Singapore…

    Thanks for sharing your own experiences with regards to this topic. Education is a tricky thing that society is still learning as it goes, who’s to say what the best method is. Everyone should definitely try learning from a diverse array of cultures, take in what’s the best, and try to grow to the best humans we can be!

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    • Very well said, Ray. Education is a tricky thing and there are so many opposite views on which is the best method. I agree, learning from a diverse array or cultures is something we should try. Much to learn from others and especially across cultures. Hope you have a good trip.

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      • In Puerto Rico, at least when I went to school, we were separated by our scores. So the A students had their own faster class, and the B-C, then the D-F students received more help. In the US everyone is in the same class regardless of score, which can be very difficult for all. And thank you!! 😊 I love it so it’s been fun to learn!


        • That is interesting to hear in Puerto Rico your school separated students into streams depending on their scores. In Singapore, high school had something similar, where if you were high performing you were likely to be put into the science or higher language classes. I do think having choice makes it more fun when it comes to learning. And when learning is fun, it is usually easier to learn 😊

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  2. Thanks for another interesting post Mabel. Sadly, my schooling focused on rote learning until my 30s when I pursued some new interests. I didn’t learn how to learn, think for myself, or trust my own judgment, partly due to the type of schooling and parenting I had. I wish schools were more focused on teaching kids how to think, learn, discern, and learn life skills that in my opinion are more important than book knowledge.

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  3. Hi, Mabel – This is a very interesting comparison of teaching and learning styles across different cultures. I particularly enjoyed reading about your personal experiences in learning in different cultural environments.
    And I 100% agree – You are never too old, nor is it ever too late, to show up and learn!

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    • Thanks, Donna. It is interesting to see how teaching and learning styles are different across different cultures. Yes, it’s never too old or late to show up and learn. Learning can be as simple as learning to cook a dish. Hope you learn to cook many more dishes 😊

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  4. Hi Mabel,
    Thank you for sharing your insights and experience from formal education across three countries.
    I went to school here to parents with a traditional South-East Asian mindset, and I could relate to much of what you have written.
    The education I received in Australia in a home context of Asian parents helped me get the most out of the experience.


  5. Mabel, Your comparative study of Eastern and Western learning styles clearly brings out how different is the approach of educating children. May I add that Eastern styles have evolved with time and the kind of learning that was imposed in the Gurukuls changed to schools and rote learning has also taken a back seat in the modern times, especially in Public schools. Eastern method has been very effective in producing focused learners but now there is a big change, which has been influenced by Western methods.

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    • Thank you for reading and sharing your insights, Balroop. It is so true that Eastern teaching styles have evolved over time, and interesting to hear some public schools in India have taken a different approach. It is always good to have an open-approach to learning as one style of learning does not work for everyone. Hope you are doing well 😊

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  6. I enjoyed reading about the differences in Eastern and Western educational practices. I’ve heard these things before, but your writing is clear and easy to understand.

    I enjoy learning things, but my eyesight now keeps me from reading easily. Keeping my phone working well is a challenge. I’m always pleased when I can update the system and apps without asking my grandson for help.


    • Thank you so much for your kind and lovely words, Anne. I am sorry to hear that your eyesight makes reading challenging for you. It sounds like you are determined to read and learn, and hope you take your time with it.

      Technology ca be challenging. Good on you for updating the system and apps on your own. That can be a challenge for many, and you are doing very well 😊


        • Yes, you are wise to enlarge fonts on computer and phone if it helps you. It sounds challenging to read a book on a phone screen. I have a Kindle to read e-books with, and the font and layout can be enlarged to my liking 😊


            • I remember Borders. There were quite a few Borders bookstores here in Australia about a decade ago but have since closed. Maybe one day you can upgrade your e-reader. Maybe some of your friends may have suggestions 🙂


              • I know a friend in NY has a Kindle. My brother and his wife read ebooks, but I don’t know what readers they have. I was discouraged a couple of years ago to find that getting books from the library was almost impossible. Every ebook I would like to read had a waiting time of six months. It’s just as well. I have lots of things I need to read. After John’s death in June, daughter Lise and I began to go through family papers. We set aside several boxes of things for me to read, mostly letters. I’ve read about an inch of them. I’m glad you wrote about reading, because that is the project I MUST get back to. No excuses, Anne!


                • That does sound discouraging about borrowing eBooks from the library. Six months is a long time to be waiting for an eBook. It sounds like those boxes of papers hold some interesting stories waiting to be read. Not something to rush through, and I am sure you will have a good time going through the letters. Who knows what else you will discover 😊


  7. The thing about education is everyone has an opinion on it! Everyone’s gone to school, even if it was for a short time, so everyone can share their experiences.

    As a teacher in Thailand, I’d say my biggest shock or difference I noticed is how pretty much all students pass regardless of abilities. Cheating is normal, if not in the spirit of team work. 😛 Plagiarism is also considered no big deal, but when I was growing up in the States, teachers put the fear of God in you — like you’d go to jail for plagiarism or something.

    But I think you did a pretty thorough job of explaining the differences! And as far as the last thing I learned, it’s probably trying to figure out Google Docs! Cheers.


  8. I think you’ve summed up those differences quite well, Mabel. I believe we are learning from the moment we are born (and maybe before) and continue learning until the day we die. The quote from Bruce Lee that you’ve ended your post with is a good one. I agree that learning is discovery. Rote learning doesn’t always lead to understanding, but discovery always does.


  9. Thanks for a serious student (you obviously are one..!😊) view of eastern and western schooling systems. In the globalised world of today, the youth is experiencing a gainful exposure to both systems of learning through exchange programs at school and university levels, and seeking higher and specialised education in other countries. Indeed, the pursuit of learning can be substantially enhanced with both eastern and western systems drawing on each other’s best practices such that newer generations everywhere are well equipped for life’s challenges.


    • That is such a wonderful point to bring up, that there is learning through exchange programs at school and university levels. These programs tend to provide the opportunity of a lifetime immersed in different cultures. There are certainly aspects of learning we can draw on from different systems to enhance our own learning – and do so with an open mind.

      Yes, I am a serious student….and these days also really like to have fun with learning 😊 It is lovely to see you, Raj. Hope all is well with you and wishing you well this year.


  10. When I went to school decades ago in Australia, it was a lot like what you describe in Asia—rote learning, little creativity. Since you haven’t been in the education system in Asia for some time, there may be many paradigms that have shifted as has been the case elsewhere. As an ex-teacher, one of the most important skills I hoped my students would learn was social skills. I noticed this at university too that some assignments included group work. But I do agree, Asian parents are way too pushy, expecting their children to outperform others and the students never seemed to have down time.
    What are my leaning challenges now? I am writing novels and each week with my critique group I learn how to improve what the writing I share. Writing also includes a lot of research and I’m always surprised by information I never knew. Additionally, when covid started, I decided to take up piano after never touching a keyboard in decades—and I’m enjoying the daily challenge.


    • Thanks, Mallee. Certainly paradigms and perspectives have changed and shifted educational systems over time. Different influences will most likely have their impact over time on how we learn. Social skills is so important, and that is so true that assignments at university included group work. That was the part of university that I didn’t look forward too – as often how your group assignment turns out can depend on the skills of others’ in the group and if you could all get along as a group. All in all, getting along with others is a part of learning.

      That is amazing you are writing novels and are part of a critique group where you can learn how you can improve on your writing. Writing involves reading, researching, writing, researching again and rewriting… It is a lot of work. Also good on you for picking up the piano again. Lovely to hear you are enjoying it 😊

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  11. Interesting article, Mabel. It’s true about the two different teaching and learning styles. As for me, I always do better when learning is flexible, without constraints, restrictions, or deadlines. Nice to “see” you again. 🙂


    • Lovely to hear you know what kind of learning works for you, Lori. I also like flexible learning with no deadlines, though I do like to stay consistent as much as possible to keep on track. It is nice to ‘see’ you again too 😊

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  12. The range of subjects and opportunities for learning seem huge these days, Mabel. I’m afraid I glaze over when it comes to technology but I would enjoy an online writing course. I’m not a very disciplined learner though. I have text books 📚 on Portuguese sitting beside me but I manage to ignore them very well. My parents obviously weren’t strict enough with me! 🤣. Just joking- I was actually a good student when I was younger but it seems to have worn off 😘❣️


  13. Insightful as always, Mabel. I grew up going to Western-learning schools here in the US, but I will say that my Chinese upbringing (thanks to my parents) still instilled in me the studious, Confucian-like habits of Eastern learning– I had the best of both worlds! I think the blend of having both cultures gave me a pretty, well-rounded education, in which I was allowed to pursue more “creative” concentrations (e.g. English literature in university) while having the solid work ethic to get good grades in such concentration and the foresight of how to get into a good career as a result of that. Although it’s been years since I was last in a classroom, I still find the pleasure of learning topics I’m passionate about, like geography and gender/sexuality politics. I’ve also really gotten into audiobooks just recently, and I’m constantly learning new creative styles from all sorts of authors out there, some who inspire me to pick up the pen and write creatively again!


    • Thanks, Rebecca. It did sound like you had the best of both words with learning, being studious and open-minded about your studies simultaneously. Great that you got to pursue more creative pathways in university and carried on with that after. It’s great that you like learning and learn about topics you are passionate about. When you’re passionate about something, learning can come so much more naturally and you might even develop knowledge and skills quickly.

      That’s also great you’ve gotten into audiobooks. I’ve tried getting into audiobooks but really find it hard to get into them. I think reading and learning through reading suits me better – I can read the book at my own pace and go back and forth pages when I want to 😄

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  14. It’s fascinating to watch the the influence and the outcome of Asian educational mindsets in the US, especially SoCal. There are many extra Chinese learning centers and Japanese schools open in the afternoons and on weekends. Meanwhile, the white kids are playing youth sports on the weekends, hoping for sports scholarships to college. The top students at the local high schools? Mostly Asian-American. The campuses at prestigious universities? Mostly Asian American, even in the American South and Midwest (which are whiter/ less diverse than the West Coast and the Northeast). But the cost to many Asian-American kids as their parents focus on extra hours of math and science, especially when the student wants to play an instrument, be an artist, or write instead? Depression. Anxiety. Higher rates of suicide. I feel like we’re finally starting to see a shift in some of the Korean American and Chinese American parents, though, as they let their kids take unweighted classes in high school like Marching Band or play a sport or start a creative writing club on campus.


    • You bring up a good point there, that there are learning centres open on weekends catered to the Asian community interested in sending their children for additional lessons. And the Western kids are focused on sports with an eye for sports scholarships – and I think that sports scholarships are more common (or commonly sought after) in the US compared to here in Australia. It is similar here in Australia where Asian Australians are known to do well in certain subjects here. But agreed such pressure to study can certainly take its toll and many are often silent about it.

      Participating in leisure activities or activities or interest can be important in balancing serious study and personal development – and giving one the opportunity to simply have fun. While some of these clubs can be pretty exclusive, generally there is a lot to choose from.

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  15. Speaking from the teaching side, I had two vastly different experiences teaching Hispanic students and Chinese students. For years, I taught at a bilingual (Spanish-English) college in Chicago, and then I taught incoming Chinese freshman at American University in Washington, DC. The students’ very different learning styles was fascinating, and what I appreciated in each culture was offset by what annoyed and challenged me! I won’t go into stereotypical detail, but each set of students had skills that the other did not, and my job was to hone the aspects of their learning styles that were weaker. I’m not sure which I would say was harder to do!


    • So interesting to hear you have taught students of very different cultural backgrounds, Lex. It certainly sounded like an eye opening experience for you, learning their different styles while delivering the material and educating them with an open approach. It sounded like you worked hard to guide the students towards their learning and self-improvement – a learning experienced for them just as must as for you. Hope you are doing well 😊

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  16. Mabel, as always, you share an excellent and informed perspective on learning. I am thinking right brain versus left brain dominant… And thinking of the book by Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary. In this book, he posits that we have collectively shifted too far to the left brain, causing the problems we have today worldwide. In his opinion and mine as well, the right brain should be the master and the left brain, the emissary.

    Also in reading this, I wonder who pays for secondary education in Asia and in Australia. I know Asia is a pretty broad area, covering way too many countries to make a generalization. Still, here in the US, the cost of secondary education has become prohibitive. One might be encouraged to follow their passion, as my daughters were, but then if they don’t work in service to the government or a major corporation, they are left with hundreds of thousands of debt that is unlikely to be paid off in a lifetime. I wonder if you are aware of this? I call it my daughters’ generation’s mortgage. In my generation, a secondary education was easier to pay off in a few years, even if it took that long. Allowing one to purchase a home, for example, after a couple of years on the job. This really can make a person heart sick for their kids and grandkids, and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. So the financial end of things in this country very much plays into how, where, and why students pursue a secondary education. It’s getting pretty dire.

    Blessings and love to you, Mabel. Keep on writing! Your ideas are always provocative an informative ! 🙏❤️


    • This is such a reflective, thought-provoking commentary from you, Bela. It is interesting to hear the book by Iain McGilchrist and how we collectively have shifted towards more left brained. As technology and AI advances, it seems even more so we are shifting towards left brain dominance. That may be exciting, but it leaves me wondering what happens to imagination and creativity.

      It is such a good question, who ‘pay’s for (secondary and tertiary) education in different countries. I actually know what you mean about that. In Australia at least, secondary education is supported financially by parents. It’s the tertiary education payments that are a fair bit to pay off. Follow your passion as you study at university and then work as a creative, you might be in student debt for long while these days. On the other hand, other courses might be subsidised more and so are more affordable to pay off. Then there are also courses that are highly subsidised and the catch is that you are bonded to work for a certain place for a few years thereafter – a way to make education affordable but could be a narrow path career-wise for a while. Education these days is also so commercialised and without an education, you may be overlooked by so many sectors. It is dire times in many ways.

      You are so encouraging, Bela. Thank you for your kind words. Hope you are doing well 😊💕

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  17. I love to learn! Every day, I feel like I learn something new, whether it’s a book, website, or in my offline world experience. It was interesting to read about the differences you experienced in classrooms over the years, Mabel. And that’s great about the online writing course! I also appreciate the time you take for each post ~ All the best to you!

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    • You certainly have an enthusiasm for learning, Christy! Sounds like you learn wherever you are and take learning in your stride. Hope you get to read and learn more, and explore and discover the world more soon. All the best to you too 😊

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  18. Well thought out and researched post, Mabel. I’m not surprised by these differences between east and west education approaches. I want to continue learning until the day I die.
    Congratulations on your writing course! that sounds both fun and educational. I like how you view it as an investment in yourself. So TRUE. I look forward to hearing more.


    • Thanks, Lisa. I love that, that you want to continue learning as much as possible for the rest of your life. There is always much to learn in ways big and small. The writing course is certainly an investment in myself. Very excited to see what I’ll get out of it and where it will take me. Hope you are well and stay safe 💕

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  19. Your posts are always fascinating, Mabel. Informative and I gain new perspectives. You make a good point on the different styles of teaching/learning and no right or wrong. I look back on how and what was taught years ago and I wonder about it all. I guess when you know better, you do better…different trends and emphasis. Keeping up with the times is a plus. Also a great point how learning is individual.

    I read mostly nonfiction, inspirational books, articles and I inhale podcasts. As you know, learning never stops. A great article, Mabel!❤️ Erica


    • Learning is so versatile and no one size fits all. You are so right in that there are different trends and emphasis when it comes to learning. Sometimes when you look back, you realise some subjects, experiences or even teachers make learning really engaging. It sounds like you learn a lot from reading, and that’s amazing.

      It is so good to see you, Erica. When doing the blog rounds and I come knocking on your blog, I wonder where you are. Hope you are doing well and take care 😊💕

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is always a good feeling when you encounter a challenge, work through it and come out on top. It’s such an engaging way to learn – and you in turn usually feel empowered to learn more 😊


  20. Mabel, a fascinating post about education and learning! To some extent the two are different and you’ve explained with great clarity the differences between the two regarding formal education and learning. I think, there has to be a balance between the two cultures for both! I love the arts, languages and obviously the creative element within this. Yet at the same time, it seemed the easy option with trickier subjects for teachers to just say you are not good at this and leave it! I relish a challenge! I totally agree that learning is a life-long passion. My grandfather was still learning in his nineties, his special interest was history and when my mother once mentioned he could get a degree (or two, three!) in the subject, he asked, why? A good answer! Recently I’ve been learning Portuguese, just for fun, I enjoy the language and I’ve visited the country once and hope to do so soon but this time able to communicate a bit with others! Happy Learning – always!


    • Yes, there are certainly differences between formal education and learning, but both are similar in that they involve learning. Like you I love the arts and always had an interest in English and literature subjects in schools. Though creativity comes naturally to me, at times expressing it can be a challenge and I relish that challenge.

      Your grandfather sounded very passionate about learning and learning well into this nineties really shows that. One can choose to learn anytime. That is great you are having fun learning Portuguese. Sometimes learning can just be about fun and there is no need for a goal or go somewhere with it – just sit back and enjoy learning. It is lovely to see you, Annika. Happy learning to you too. Hope you are doing well 🙂


  21. I love to learn! Every day, I feel like I learn something new, whether it’s a book, website, or in my offline world experience. It was interesting to read about the differences you experienced in classrooms over the years, Mabel. And that’s great about the online writing course! I also appreciate the time you take for each post. Best of Luck!


    • Thanks, Rana. You can learn anywhere these days, and lovely to hear you learn through reading, online or your experiences in the world. Always something new to learn somewhere, some place. All the best to you.


  22. This post has received a lot of attention judging from the comment section. It’s something you should be proud of.

    Despite Australia’s location, it is a country of western culture, and I consider it European. In your research for this post, did you explore any other European countries in relationship to how teaching and learning are done? The reason I ask is this topic is more of a conglomeration of approaches in the US. Although learning is done for the experience of it, the competition for excellence in scores is also at the top of wanted achievements. I attended a high school in Denver, Colorado the had a student body that was a little more the 50% Jewish. Because of this fact, the competition for high grades was fierce and drove the grade curve up. At the time, no one got an A in a course unless their grade score average was at least a 94%. Even with this pressure on me, I always felt the experience of what I learned was just as important, and sometimes more importance depending on the subject. Yet, I wasn’t in the majority with this opinion. Most of my classmates had more focus on the competition aspect.

    Is there that much difference between the western and eastern cultures?


    • That is a very good perspective to raise on European approaches of teaching and learning. It would be an insightful area to explore but I decided to go with the experiences that I had in Australia and in South-East Asia. I do like to keep my focus narrow but in-depth when I write – maybe one day I will explore learning in other regions in more detail.

      That is a good point, that there is always competition for high grades, at least among certain groups of students who are keen on learning whether to pursue further opportunities, want to challenge themselves or simply want to shine. And there are usually a few students in each class who are extremely keen on being top of the class. Grade scaling or the adjustment of the bell curve can be common to accommodate the competitiveness of a cohort – and if the grade curve went up and it was harder to attain an A, it really seems competitive.

      I think there will be differences as much as similarities between Eastern and Western cultures within different contexts. Thank you for the kind words. Blogging is hard work. Hope you are doing well, Glynis. Wishing you well with your writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Mabel, you are an incredible writer and your book is going to succeed beyond imagining! I can see how the mix of both an eastern and western approach in your studies have molded you into who you are today. Learning by rote in some subjects yes is the best way to go about studying but not all. I was very bored easily in the lower grades and only strived for good grades on account on my mother and her “expectations”. When in University the complexity of the subjects I studied were vastly understood in labs or with hands on experience. I learn best by the hands on method. I LOVE to learn and to encourage myself to grow in every way possible.

    I really LOVED reading your post, dear friend. The effort and the painstakingly perfection that glows from your words is a message to all who do come here, when we are passionate about what we do and put much care into it, we succeed. You do and you shall continue to shine! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Excellent job!!! xoxoxo


    • It sounded like you always knew your path deep within your heard, Amy. It is wonderful to hear as time went on you broadened your perspectives and came to understand hands on experience was something you resonated with. Hands on experience together with the lessons of life can be such a powerful teacher – and not to mention letting Mother and the Universe guide you. It is amazing that you love learning and through your posts, you share what you learn around you through photography and words and valuable insights in this world wee live in, and insights worth thinking about.

      Thank you for your kind words. It means a lot. Writing a book – and any form of art which you certainly know – is about sharing what we know, what is important to us and working towards a greater purpose. I hope to put my book out there at some point. Hopefully sooner rather than later but let’s see where it goes. Follow your passion and continue to shine brightly, Amy 🌙🌌💕

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Very interesting article Mabel. I have been fortunate enough to experience education in England, Singapore and Australia. Australian education style, especially secondary for me was very open. encouraging input from students. Singapore was more like ‘sit down and shut up’ Haha! England was my primary education and because Im old, it included a lot of rote learning, for which I have been eternally thankful. I can do reasonably complicated maths in my head and I’m usually pretty good with words. 🙂 I did love my time in the Singapore education system, where we had a mixture of local and visiting teachers from England, New Zealand and Australia.
    Take care Mabel and stay warm 🙂


    • That is amazing you have experienced different modes of education in different countries. I think the ‘sit down and shut up’ phrase describes the education system in South-East Asian to quite an extent, though I do think international schools here generally have a more open approach to learning – and probably more diverse activities with different teachers and excursions. It is a good kills to be able to do reasonable complicated maths in your head and also be good at words at the same time – the latter of which is very true since you write very thoughtful poetry 🙂 It has been rather cool of late but here’s hoping it warms up again soon. Hope you are enjoying summer, Andy 😊


  25. Fascinating. It’s easy to overlook how differently we each are reared and how parental expectations play into our educations. I enjoy learning, a gift from my parents I suppose. I learn something every day, but not through formal classes, more by being observant and curious.


    • That is great you learn something everyday by being observant and curious. And you certainly learnt heaps from your home improvement projects and many more things to learn in this area to come. The learning never stops 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Perhaps you may also mention that with Asian students, those who come from well-to-do families have access to private lessons and tutoring which is supposed to help them pass examinations and gain admission to prestigious schools. In the West, there is some of that also, but not the extent it is done in Asia.


    • That is a good observation, Hien. Well-to-do Asian families do have access to private lessons and tutoring – the student gets more one-on-one, individualised tutoring which can help pass exams. Schooling and tutoring are really quite competitive in Asia. Thank you for stopping by 🙂


  27. It must have been a turmoil to go from one style of teaching to another. Time has changed teaching/learning processes. When I was young, the teacher was treated with the utmost respect and there was physical punishment for misdemeanors. There was a glut of students (baby boomers) and not enough teachers. The more advanced students helped the teacher with those who were struggling. At that time the Scottish education system was regarded as one of the best in the world. We had many overseas students from Malaysia and all over the world. One of my best friends at college was named Bee Kwan and from Malaysia.

    I like to keep learning in an informal way – Duolingo, documentaries etc. Thought provoking post, as always, Mabel! K x


    • I think for me I didn’t have to many issues changing from one teaching/learning style to another. I think I just adapted.

      Now that is quite true, physical punishment for misdemeanours in school. In Malaysia and Singapore, sometimes if the class was too noisy the teacher would make us stand in class or get a smack on the hand with a ruler as punishment.

      Sounded like you had an eye-opening educational experience, Kerry. I hope you and Bee Kwan had many memorable college experiences together, and maybe you still keep in touch.

      I like that, learning through Duolingo, documentaries and more. Learning informally can be both a fun and natural way to learn, no pressure. Hope all is well 😊💕

      Liked by 1 person

  28. To answer your question at the end, learning is for life. For sure, my career has demanded that I learn each industry I worked in, the people, very diverse life paths, etc.

    Reading and participating lightly in “net discussions, another way I enjoy learning.


    • I so agree with you, Jean. Indeed learning is for life in ways big and small. It is good you were always keen on learning in your career, and you also enjoy learning through light online discussions. I personally learn a lot from chatting with others in the blogging world. Hope all is well with you. Stay safe 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Haha, as a Malaysian, I can definitely relate to this. Over here, we have further separation between Chinese schools and government school. Say what you want about racism, but the arithmetic skills they teach in Chinese schools way outdo the government style. And in Asia in general, rote learning is the norm, whereas for Western syllabuses, I’ve always heard about ‘critical thinking’. Great on you for tackling this subject!


    • That is true that there is a separation between the different schools based on race and school system. ‘Critical thinking’ seems to be a skill that is very much sought after here in Australia. It often is a skill you learn when you are at work or in real life experience. And sometimes to learn such a skill is to apply it and learn from there. Thanks for stopping by, Stuart 🙂


  30. There is a certain “grass is greener on the other side” feeling I think when I take a look at the Eastern learning styles since I grew up deep in the Western style 🙂 I admire the rigorous nature of the Eastern style and always am impressed by the result… I once taught a graduate class of economics in China for graduates at 西北工业大学 in Xi’an, and WOW, these students were brilliant, charming, and great to be around. But I’m also grateful for not having to go through such a system as they did, as it was rigid, and I’d likely rebel. They liked my class, not because I could teach them anything – but mainly because I had an informal teaching style/professional style they enjoyed experiencing 🙂

    The differences you list are spot on. And from the list, creativity is the most significant difference I have seen. With my old colleagues in China and even my colleagues in Czech who were brought up in a similar strict style: very smart, but when it comes to thinking outside the box and coming up with creative solutions, it was as if they hit a wall. It was surprising, as this has always been the fun part of education for me.

    Now, part of the sad part of Western education is the learning environment. Teachers are less respected in the classroom, and from what I have heard from my nieces and sisters, who are teachers, classrooms are even more disruptive these days. A controlled learning environment is something valuable in the Eastern education style. You are lucky to experience both styles and draw the best aspects from each one. I think this becomes more valuable when you learn something you’re passionate about, like writing and psychology – subjects you are fascinated with, and moving you closer to what it is you dream of… Well done!

    And I love the Bruce Lee quote at the end (we consider him a Seattlite – a person from Seattle 😁!). He lived it and thrived, knowing that learning is a constant process of discovery, never-ending, and we should take his words to heart and never lose this gift of continual discovery. Wishing you a beautiful weekend, Mabel. Excellent and informative post and I love your writing style. Take care ~


    • The ‘grass is greener on the other side’. Sometimes there is much truth to that. Other times it really comes down to our individual or cultural perception, or what we make of the situation and what we are after. That is splendid that you have taught in a university in Xi’an. Great you had a bunch of brilliant students who enjoyed your teaching style. It must have been a teaching style that was different and as such, they probably were eager to learn from you 🙂

      It is interesting to hear about the approaches of your colleagues in Czech. Creativity is usually something that is hard to teach in my opinion. Though teachers can adopt creative approaches or one can take more creative subjects in the form or arts and humanities, it is up to the individual to think outside of the box and dare to be different.

      I think learning about something that you are passionate about is so humbling. At the same time it can be challenging as it is when you learn you come to question your craft or what you are interested in. The more I’ve been learning about writing now, the more I am questioning my writing and let’s see where this goes… 😄

      That Bruce Lee quote is so true about learning. Discovery is never ending and who knows what we will discover, or who we will meet. And in turn discover. Wishing you a wonderful season ahead, Randall. It is always lovely chatting with you 😊


      • Ha, yes, my students enjoyed the freestyle way of teaching as it was so different – mainly because I brought a case study of the joint venture of Beijing Jeep from the US which dissected the differences in Chinese – US business mentality… that was fun :-). It was also surprising to them that when they asked me grammar questions regarding their writing, I told them, “I have no clue about grammar rules… I learned them by reading and writing.” They were actually shocked 🙂 But fortunately, one guy in the class volunteered to answer all grammar questions anyone had, and we all laughed ~ I ended up learning quite a bit from him 😂.

        The environment in the classroom was great as we ended up learning from each other and the material required. It created an environment where we could all find something to be passionate about – even amid all our differences. The one thing I did learn in China was the more I learned about something, the more I realized I knew nothing 🙂 This is a good attitude, so when I hear you say, “The more I’ve been learning about writing now, the more I am questioning my writing and let’s see where this goes…” I know you are on the right track! Great chatting with you, Mabel; it is always fun and educational 🙂


        • So interesting to hear of your teaching experiences. You sound a natural at teaching in formal settings, and so eager to learn from others which is amazing. It is also interesting to hear you say you don’t know much about grammar rules but you learned them by reading and writing. I think that is how we all learn our first language, by conversing with others, and by reading and writing. When it comes to a second language, we tend to focus quite a bit on the grammar and structural components.

          Agree with you on the more you learn something, the more you realise you know nothing. I find myself thinking that way all the time 😄 At the end of the day, I think we all know something yet there is always opportunity to learn elsewhere or from others. Always lovely to chat with you, Randall. Take care and stay safe 😊


  31. An excellent post Mabel! In support of your premises, my granddaughter goes to school in NYC and her best friend is Asian. The differences in their school experience could not be more apparent and tracks closely with your analysis. Her best friend is ONLY about education and is totally focused on it to the exclusion of all other activities. Our granddaughter, on the other hand, is into horseback riding (and on weekends helps autistic children to ride), plays on multiple sports teams, and with her dad, travels extensively. Both girls are at the top of the class in their respective high schools (one public, one private). Both will get into excellent colleges. Her friend plans to become a doctor (whether she wants to or not), Our granddaughter wants to pursue science but is open-minded about her eventual career. Despite their many differences, they are the best of friends. To me, that is the most important sentence. If only the rest of the world could find what they have in common instead of focusing on their differences, it would be a better world for all of us.


    • What a wonderful comment and thank you for sharing, Tina. Sounds like your granddaughter is into learning in so many ways, from the in classroom to sporting activities to being around with her friends. It is interesting to hear that her friend is the complete opposite and is highly focused on formal education – and both of them are top of the class in different schools. I really like that you say and find it important they are the best of friends as there is much value in being good friends with someone despite differences. Sometimes the most interesting things you learn come from being around someone, learning different behaviours, mindsets and emotions and learn how to be a good friend – and better person. And these are things they will probably remember for life. Hope all is well with you, Tina. Take care 😊


  32. Ooooh this is such a helpful and thoughtful post, thank you for sharing! I’m starting a job as a professor soon and it’s important to keep these cultural differences in mind so I do not unfairly penalize students and so I can be attuned to different people’s cultures. So cool to see how your lived experience influences these ideas.


    • Congratulations on starting a job as a professor soon, Thomas. Incredible and well-deserved after working so hard. Different teaching styles and ways of learning resonate differently with people. Culture can certainly influence how one prefers to learn, and sometimes it really comes down to one’s individual experiences. All the best with the role 😊💓

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Fascinating Peng Yu. I like your comparative approach. East vs. West.
    I was trained in the French and the American system. There are differences of course. The good thing is that one can make the best of both systems…


  34. Wonderful to read your take on education and the different modes of learning.. I agree with you that learning today is far different from in the past.. And today there is much much more pressure on the students than back in my day to succeed and get those grades..
    I was a slow learning… yet I excelled at things I was interested in…
    I was hopeless at Maths… never came anyway above half in my class in exams… We were given ten mental arithmetic problems to solve at the beginning of every maths lesson… I would only ever get an average of five correct…
    Yet I was good at geography and History, because I enjoyed the subjects..

    I think Balance is needed in which ever styles we learn…. Balancing the creative with the academic.. We are after all creative BE-ings…
    And I dislike how many schools now at least here in England put the emphasis on School performances in stats… So they push their students to get best grades for their school…. I think often the systems.. Its all about achievement and not enjoying the process of learning.. Learning becomes a chore and very stressful.. For many students now even in junior schools… The JOY of learning is often taken away…

    I disliked school for many reasons….. But the lessons I enjoyed I remembered Kind teachers, and lessons I enjoyed learning from…
    Education in many areas I personally feel could do with making education enjoyable rather than a chore..

    Loved reading your perspectives Mabel… always a delight to see things from both sides..

    Sending LOVE and Hugs my friend.. ❤ ❤ ❤


    • Such a thoughtful comment from you, Sue. You said it well that there is much more pressure on students these days to succeed and get good grades. Though at times some schools and teachers may lean towards less on grades, more on experience, when you get out into the competitive world these grades may actually matter.

      While you felt like Maths was not up your alley, it is so lovely to hear you excelled at things you were interested in. I think when you are challenged at learning it builds character and resilience. But when it comes to feeling constant stress at learning, it can be hard to keep up and stay motivated. Yes, we certainly are creative BE-ings and you know how to BE in your own self and light. Some things you learn the best when you have a genuine interest and that can open up many doors. It is when we can truly be ourselves and say yes to becoming better versions of ourselves.

      I hope all is well with you, dear friend. Take care and stay safe 😊💓


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