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Studying hard or studying smart?: motivation, learning strategies and academic outcomes among international students from a Confucian Heritage Culture (CHC) background
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posted on 16.02.2017by Chang, Siew Yin Collette
Confucian Heritage Culture (CHC) learners are well known for being incredibly
motivated in the field of education and for their apparent reputation in employing what
is commonly regarded as a deficit model in their approach to learning. What motivates
the CHC Ieamer and do they adopt surface strategies for learning?
CHC motivation has previously been explained under sociocultural labels of SOAM
(socially-oriented achievement motivation) and attributed to a demonstration of filial
piety. These theories are relevant to the social environment of the students but whether
existing theories are substantive enough to account for a wider range of motivated
behaviour is questioned. These learners demonstrated persistence, determination and
motivation in pursuing their learning goals. Self-determination theory (SOT) is the
main theoretical framework for investigating these concepts. SOT proposes different
degrees of extrinsic motivation and this was significant in explaining the CHC learner's
Secondly, learning approaches of CHC students have been in the forefront of a
considerable debate among educators. The question of whether the CHC learner adopts
mastery goals, which presupposes the application of deep approaches to learning or
performance goals which relies more on surface approaches was examined under
achievement goal theory. The question of what made each goal salient was also
considered as this has implication for educators. Participants were also asked to
identify their attributions for success or failure.
A case study design was chosen for this qualitative investigation. This allowed students
to express their opinions in an interview which lasted approximately 35 minutes.
Seventeen participants from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia enrolled in a
final-year business undergraduate course at Monash University were interviewed. A
semi-structured interview protocol was used.
These CHC learners demonstrated a greater degree of extrinsic motivation in their
choices. Although extrinsic motivation is not ideal for educational outcomes, SOT was
used as an interpretive lens to account for their motivated behaviour which was seen to
be consistent with the intemalisation of an extrinsic goal.
The findings for learning approaches indicated that these participants were skilled in
both surface and deep approaches. An intrinsic orientation encouraged mastery goals
and adaptive learning approaches. Extrinsic motivational factors were not so clear cut.
Evidence of the internalisation of these goals meant that students were adaptive in their
approach. However, being motivated to achieve meant that they were strategic and
flexible; often adopting both mastery and performance goals and the corresponding
deep or surface strategies to fulfil assessment requirements. Ultimately, the factors that
made a mastery or performance goal salient was determined by the learning context,
assessment requirements and course design and was not a result of the learners' cultural
These findings were consistent with students' attributions of their success to either:
interest, style of assessment, course design or type of subject which encouraged the use
of adaptive strategies or surface learning approaches. Therefore, the factors that
motivated these students to persist in their studies also influenced their choice of
learning approaches. These conclusions have implications for educators to re-examine
their course design and assessment requirements. It also challenges the neat
dichotomous terminologies previously used to investigate motivational orientation,
achievement goals and even attributions for success. Being strategic learners, the CHC
students were strategic in their approach and adapted to what was required for success.