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Assessing approaches to learning: cross-cultural comparisons

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Assessing approaches to learning cross cultural comparisons


This study was designed to see if Hong Kong Chinese students predisposed to a surface or deep approach to learning react differently when moving progressively from one stage to the next stage in their undergraduate occupational therapy curriculum. In this study, the internal consistency reliability estimates alpha for SPQ (Study Process Questionnaire (Biggs, 1987c)) scales for samples of Hong Kong, Australian and British students were compared. The alpha estimates varied from 0.56 to 0.75 which compares favourably with other studies reported in Hong Kong, Australia and U.K. The results of this study did not confirm the anecdotal claims that rote learning was far more wide spread among Hong Kong tertiary students than their counterparts in other countries and ruled out the potential for misunderstandings.

Materials & Methods

This study is a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods in its design, data collection and data analysis, and hence their interpretation. The study involved an investigation of 80 OT undergraduate students by administering a series of 4 validated test instruments. The Study Process Questionnaire (Biggs, 1992) was used pre–and post-clinical education intervention to assess students’ approaches to learning. The SPQ consists of 42 items equally and systematically divided among three approaches to learning (deep, surface, and achieving) into six motive and strategy scales.

Table 1: Comparison of learning approaches of the sample population


It can be noted from the results shown below (Table 2), the alpha estimates varied from 0.56 to 0.75 and compares favourably with other studies reported in Hong Kong, Australia and U.K. (Biggs, 1987a; Biggs, 1992; Biggs, 1996; Chan & Watkins, 1995; O’Neil & Child, 1984; and Hattie & Watkins, 1981).

Table 2. Internal Consistency Reliability Coefficient Alpha of SPQ Scales and Subscales

Assessing approaches to learning: cross-cultural comparisons

Dr. Bhoomiah Dasari, DBA, MSc, TDipCOT, FCOT, School of Health Professions &

Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Southampton, England, U.K.

  • Key:

  • Present study

  • Biggs (1993)

  • Kember and Gow (1990)

  • Biggs & Watkins (1996)

  • Chan & Watkins (1995)

  • Biggs (1987a)

  • Biggs (1992)

  • Hattie & Watkins (1981)

  • O’Neil and Child (1984)

Discussion and Conclusions

There are conflicting stereotypes existing in the literature about Asian students who are perceived by their teachers as over relying on rote learning. Anecdotal evidence also abounds in Hong Kong to the effect that students entering tertiary education are predisposed to a “rote” learning approach. However, until the research studies at City Polytechnic of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic (Balla & Stokes, 1989; Gow & Kember, 1989; Kember & Gow, 1991; Davies, Sivan & Kember, 1994), there have been no systematic studies performed in Hong Kong. Based on the findings of this study and some other studies, stereotype description of Chinese learner is not supported. On the basis of the evidence gathered from this research, it is reasonable to conclude that Chinese students’ show no difference in their patterns of adaptation to academic demands that their approach to study was, like that of other Asian students, influenced by their perceptions of course requirements rather than any ‘typical’ personal or cultural characteristics.


Balla, J., Stokes, M., & Stafford, K. (1991). Using the Study Process Questionnaire to its full potential: A Hong Kong view, (Technical Report No. 1). Hong Kong: Educational Technology Centre, City University of Hong Kong.

Biggs, J.B. (1987c). The Study Process Questionnaire (SPQ): Manual. Hawthorn, Victoria: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Biggs, J. (1992). Developing knowledge: A process of construction maping and review. New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy, 20, 23-30.

Biggs, J.B. (1993). What do inventories of students’ learning processes really measure? A theoretical review and clarification. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 63, 3-19.

Chan, Y. Y. C. A., & Watkins, D. (1995). How do Hong Kong hospital based student nurses learn? Educational Research Journal, 10, 54-59.

Gow, L., Kember, D., & Chow, R. (1991). The effects of English language ability on approaches to learning. Regional English Language Centre Journal, 22, 49-68.

Hattie, J., & Watkins, D. A. (1981). Australian and Filipino investigations of the internal structure of Biggs’ new Study Process Questionnaire. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 51, 241-244.

O’Neil, M. J., & Child, D. (1984). Bigg’s SPQ: A British study of its internal structure. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 54, 228-234.

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