When East Meets West: Exploring the Acculturation Experiences of East Asian Online Learners

Tan, Laura Terzhao (2021). When East Meets West: Exploring the Acculturation Experiences of East Asian Online Learners. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0001279c


This study explores how East Asian postgraduate students experience acculturation when engaging in online learning in one UK university. Previous studies have mainly been quantitative, retrospective and conducted in countries such as the United States (for example, Sullivan and Kashubeck-West, 2015). Fewer studies have been qualitative, explored current student experiences and been conducted in the United Kingdom. Ten interviews were conducted (five males and five females who self-identified as East Asian). Participants were living in the United Kingdom, Austria, Saudi Arabia, China, Malaysia and Japan and studying on one of five Master’s degree programmes. The interview schedule included questions about the perceived benefits and barriers of online learning and support systems. The interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using an approach informed by Grounded Theory. Three themes emerged from the data: family values; cultural bumps; sources of motivation. Values such as ‘kiasu’ transmitted amongst East Asian families to promote winning and high achievement have a lasting impact upon East Asian postgraduates’ ability to cope with the demands of online learning. Barriers to online education could be termed ‘cultural bumps’ for East Asian postgraduates. For instance, students might face difficulties with directing questions to an authority figure and to be critical in academic writing which is particularly important for postgraduate study. Creating hybrid cultural identities, diversifying and decolonising the curriculum could help remove barriers to success. The other main source of motivation, staff, could enable the student to more effectively participate in tutorials and to complete assignments. The study adds to and extends what is known about perceptions of the role of the tutor in online learning, adds a dimension to Mezirow’s Theory of Transformative Learning and is one of the first studies conducted in a UK university to identify kiasuism as an additional pressure for East Asian postgraduates.

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