Adult Learning Styles in the United States and France

Today, the United States and France enjoy a longstanding relationship based on many of the same fundamental principles of democratic thought and pluralism, and both countries are among the leading economies of the world. There are some distinct differences involved in how educational services are delivered and received between these two countries, though, that can affect the effectiveness of one educational approach over another that must be taken into account in curricular development initiatives. Not surprisingly, there is a growing body of research concerning how such differences can be identified and what learning styles are most effective in different cultural settings, and researchers such as Geert Hofstede and educational theorists such as David Kolb have provided a useful framework in which to discern and respond to these cross-cultural differences in learning styles. To this end, this study used a critical review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning Hofstede, Kolb and others to identify discrete cross-cultural differences and similarities between adult learning styles in France and the United States today. A summary of the research, salient findings and recommendations for educators and policymakers alike are provided in the concluding chapter.

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Chapter 1: Introduction

Statement of the Problem

Research Questions and Hypothesis

Importance of Study

Rationale of Study

Overview of Study

Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature

Chapter 3: Data Analysis

Chapter 4: Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations

Comparison of Adult Learning Styles in the United States and France

Chapter 1: Introduction

Research concerning different learning styles among adults is centuries old, and dates back to Hippocrates’ discussion of temperaments (Guild, 1994). Likewise, mental health practitioners long have been interested in individual differences in how people go about learning during their later life and have identified various patterns in people’s personalities (Guild). According to this author, “Since the late 1960s, these theories about individuality and learning have been infused with new energy and insights, and the phrase ‘learning styles’ has been used to describe them” (Guild, p. 8). Clearly, recognizing what learning styles are preferred by adult learners can help educators design instructional approaches that are most effective, but there are some important cross-cultural differences involved that must be taken into account in the process. To this end, this study examines how adult American and French learn in a corporate setting. For this purpose, a discussion of Kolb’s learning styles and Geert Hofstede’s five dimensions is followed by an analysis of discrete cultural differences comparing how French and Americans learn differently.

Statement of the Problem

There are two requirements involved in the effective delivery of educational services to adult learners, one involving the teachers tasked with providing these services and the other involving the adult learners themselves. In this regard, Sims and Sims (1995) advise, “Educators must have more knowledge and understanding of the learning process, particularly how individuals learn. This will help them immensely in both the design and implementation of teaching that enhances learning. If educators relied upon models of how individuals learn, they would be better able to enhance their students’ ability to learn” (p. 1). While this represents a good start in the provision of adult educational services, there is a concomitant responsibility on the part of the adults as well. For instance, as Longworth (2003) emphasizes, “As a principle guiding the learning careers of individuals, Lifelong Learning means that people should possess a positive attitude towards intellectual, aesthetic, moral and social growth so that they gather the understanding they will need during their lives in different functioning environments” (p. 33). Depending on the prevailing national culture, though, these two requirements may differ in profound ways that will ultimately affect the effectiveness of one educational delivery style over another. Moreover, as people continue to live longer lives, it is reasonable to expect that the number of adult learners will further increase in the future, making an understanding of these requirements all the more important today.

Research Questions and Hypotheses

Based on the foregoing statement of the problem, this study was guided by the following research questions:

Do same training tools create a different perception between United States and French groups of adult learners? If so, how can learning styles and cultural dimensions explain such differences?

Is there a relationship between each learning style and the culture where training is delivered?

Do cultural dimensions affect the learning style preference in each culture?

Do learning styles and cultural dimensions explain the perception difference caused by different training tools?

The hypotheses that these research questions sought to confirm or refute are as follows:

American and French trainees do not perceive the same training tools in the same way. Americans give more value to simulations and practice while the French give more value to theories. Americans will be ready to apply skills learned if they could use them during the training and if the trainer appears to be credible from her attitude and personal experience. French will be ready to apply communication skills learned if they have evidence based on research that they work, and if they feel that they will not be judged by their peers, sounding or looking awkward.

American trainees are more activist in their learning style, while the French are more theorists.

American trainees are more individualistic, disregard power distance, are more comfortable in a high uncertainty avoidance environment, and communicate in a lower context than their French counterpart They will not mind the judgment of others in their implementation process as the French do.

The preference of learning tools (role plays, games, videotaped exercises, theories, demonstrations) is related to the preferred learning style and to dominant cultural dimensions.

Importance of Study

In increasingly multicultural societies such as the United States and France, identifying opportunities for improving the delivery of educational services just makes good business sense. Furthermore, adult learners continue to account for an increasing percentage of all learners in both of these countries, making an investigation such as this one all the more timely and important today.

Rationale of Study

Because resources are by definition scarce and no “one-size-fits-all” approach is effective for educating all adults, it is important to identify what educational approaches work best for some adults and why. In this regard, Foley (2004) advises that there is a growing consensus that besides the “scientific” or “positivist” frameworks, in education, there are also two other prevailing paradigms: (a) the interpretive (sometimes called communicative, practical, humanist, reformist, liberal or progressive, or a mixture of these terms); and (b) the critical (variously named emancipatory, transformative, strategic, socially critical, liberatory, radical or revolutionary). According to this author, “The interpretive paradigm sees knowledge as both subjective and socially constructed; its fundamental assumption is that different individuals understand the world differently. In education and other social activities, it is argued, it is futile to try to discover universal laws. It is more useful to study the different ways people make sense of situations, through language and other symbolic systems. It is possible that the interpretive paradigm is now dominant in Western adult education” (Foley, p. 13). Furthermore, adult learning has long been a major area of attention for many researchers interested in understanding the process of learning and its implications for educators and more recently trainers in selecting appropriate pedagogical methods in order to improve classroom instruction. Adult learning today is regarded as being one of the most important individual processes that takes place in organizations, higher education, and training programs (Sims & Sims).

Overview of Study

This study used a four-chapter format to answer the above-stated research questions and confirm or refute the above-stated hypotheses. To this end, chapter one introduced the issues under consideration, provided a statement of the problem, research questions and hypotheses, the importance of the study, as well as its scope and rationale. Chapter two of the study provides a critical review of the relevant and peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning adult education, and chapter three presents an analysis of the data. Chapter four presents the study’s conclusions, a summary of the research and salient recommendations for educators and policymakers alike.

Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature

Background and Overview.

Today, a majority of full-time education which is started in childhood continues into adult life in many developed nations of the world. According to Calder (1993), “In most countries those who are fortunate enough to undergo higher education do not complete their studies until they are in their middle or late-twenties” (p. 69). Increasingly in advanced countries the minimum age for leaving school is 16 and the majority of young people, as in the United States, remains until they are at least 18 years old; thereafter, a growing number pursue a course of general post-secondary education or the initial preparation for an occupation requiring several years of study after leaving school (Calder). In this environment, understanding what adult learners need and want from an advanced education has become an essential element in the debate over the role of a nation’s schools and what levels and mixes of services are most appropriate. For countries such as the U.S. And France, these needs can be reasonably expected to relate to the respective national cultures involved. For instance, in their book, Education in France, Corbett and Moon (1996) report, “An education system needs to justify itself constantly by reference to the values which underpin a nation’s culture. In a democracy it is expected to transmit a range of intellectual, aesthetic and moral values which permeate the curriculum and approaches to teaching and learning” (p. 323).

Just as the United States has been confronted with a number of challenges in recent decades in identifying the best approach to providing educational services for an increasingly multicultural society, France has experienced its fair share of obstacles in this regard as well. According to Corbett and Moon, “In societies forced to come to terms with change, values are always challenged. French society, like others, had to adapt to the aftermath of the petrol crisis. The education system — though here France was not alone — had to digest changes [including] the transformation of selective secondary education into a mass system, and the confirmation of the permanent presence of ethnic minority groups. Both called into question traditional educational values” (p. 323). One of the most important findings that educators have come to recognize in the provision of educational services to adult learners is that they are not simply “bigger” pupils but rather all bring a vast amount of life experiences to the classroom that will affect their perception of what is being taught and its relevance for their needs. In this regard, Corder (2002) advises, “When you teach a group of adults, you must bear in mind that they are all experts. By that, I don’t mean that they are all going to be leading lights in their profession or highly skilled craftspeople, but they all have life experience” (p. 8).

Furthermore, while busy classroom teachers in primary and secondary schools are tasked with a number of responsibilities that extend far beyond teaching such as classroom management and discipline, these issues are less relevant for adult learners who will likely be much more motivated to learn than their younger counterparts. For instance, Corder advises, “When an adult embarks on a course, he or she is by that very act showing a great deal of commitment. In the majority of cases, adults have paid for the course they are taking, and even if they haven’t they probably need to follow the course for reasons of personal or professional gain. Only seldom is an adult coerced into going on a course. Your students are likely to be volunteers” (p. 8). Therefore, understanding what learning styles are most appropriate for adult learners represents a good first step in the development of effective adult education services, and these issues are discussed further below.

Kolb’s Learning Styles.

It is clear that an individual’s learning style will relate to what has been the motivating factor involved. For example, both young people and adult learners who are compelled (or forced) to attend school may not be as motivated as their counterparts to learn, but adults at least are supposed to possess the requisite level of maturity to do what is necessary if it is important to them for whatever reason. In this regard, according to Bryant, Kahle and Schafer (2005), “The social and psychological connections of learners are closely related to the learner’s motivation. Adults have come to the psychological stage of life where they are responsible for their well being and can execute self-directed activities” (p. 255). To help identify the relationship between adult learners and learning strategies, Kolb developed a model for experiential learning by matching types of cognitive processes with specific types of instructional design strategies that are based upon his four learning styles; these four learning styles are associated with four types of learners: (a) reflectors, (b) theorists, – pragmatists, and (d) activists, described further as follows:

Reflectors observe, watch, and take in information from the environment and reflect upon these experiences often in a visual manner. They are characterized as imaginative types.

Theorists also observe and watch, and take in information from the environment, but they process the information abstractly and play with the idea of it in an analytical fashion. They are thus characterized as analytical types.

Pragmatists take in the experiences from the external environment and process them by testing them out in an active fashion. They are characterized as practical, common sense types.

Activists are intimately tied to their senses and sensory experiences. They process what they see, hear, touch, and feel. They are characterized as dynamic, intuitive types (Kolb cited in Leonard, 2002 at p. 69).

As Sims and Sims advise in his book Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Kolb (1984) described an experiential learning model (ELM) which is a framework for understanding ways in which the learning process and individual learning styles can affect learning: “Thus, the effective management of the learning process by faculties in institutions of higher education requires that they create environments that facilitate a productive learning climate” (Kolb, p. 2). According to Kolb, an individual’s learning style also develops as a consequence of heredity factors, previous learning experiences, and the demands of the present environment. In this regard, Kolb suggests that learning to value differences and to be receptive to diversity pose difficult educational challenges, including the following:

Diversity education requires not only acquisition of knowledge but also attitude change, appreciation of multiple perspectives, and willingness to bring about change. It must address emotional, perceptual, cognitive, and behavioral issues. The definition of prejudice, for example, includes not only ignorance of those who are different but also an emotional investment in maintaining that ignorance.

Resources of diversity education must be organized to be maximally responsive to what each learner wants to learn and the manner in which that learning is to be achieved. An African-American female may enter a diversity class seeking to understand the institutions of racism and sexism, a goal that may require her to read related concepts and theories. A white male, on the other hand, who wants to learn what it means to himself and others that he is white male, might engage in self-reflection and dialogue with his classroom peers. Such individualized learning sometimes comes into conflict with the democratic value of equality in education when individualized learning is interpreted as proposing a politics of difference, and equality is perceived as espousing a politics of sameness.

Perhaps, because diversity education addresses core feelings and values, it requires a climate of psychological safety and trust. Learners must feel empowered and in control of their own learning. When learners feel threatened, they adopt defensive and conformist postures. Teaching, then, is experienced as coercive and manipulative, and learning becomes secondary (Kolb).

Theories of experiential learning provide educational strategies for responding to the challenges of diversity education.

Experiential learning theory (ELT) describes learning as the holistic engagement of affective, perceptual, cognitive, and behavioral processes (Kolb). Learning results from the interplay of these processes, which are positioned along two primary dimensions of knowledge. Prehension, knowing by taking in data, involves the affect of concrete experience and cognition of abstract conceptualization. Transformation, knowing through modification of data, requires perception in reflective observation and behavior in active experimentation. ELT is an inclusive paradigm that allows for a range of responses to the learning requirements of diversity education (Kolb).

ELT in the concept of learning style offers a perspective for addressing the dilemma between equality in education and individualized learning. Learners are each unique in the way they learn and equal in their contribution to a larger holistic learning cycle that values, acknowledges, and includes all ways of knowing. There is no one best way to learn. The assumption is equal worth in all ways of knowing. ELT also provides guidelines for creating learning environments that address the special learning needs of each learning style (Kolb).

ELT proposes that the foundation of learning resides not in schools, books, or even teachers; rather, it rests in the experience of the learner. This democratic approach to education emphasizes self-directed learning and the role dialogue plays in the creation of a psychologically safe climate of learning (Kolb cited in Sims & Sims at pp. 129-130).

In more recent works, Kolb has extended his perspectives on experiential learning and learning styles to organizational behavior and organization learning; for example, his text, Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach, published in 2000, describes group learning exercises and problem-solving situations and simulations to promote experiential learning for the various types of learning styles of employee audiences he addresses (cited in Sims & Sims). The goals of these new efforts are to have employees learn specific, new work-related content and through the experience to learn more about oneself, one’s learning style, as well as their learning strengths and weaknesses. These are clearly laudable goals in any adult education setting, but as noted above, there are some important cross-cultural considerations to be taken into account and these issues are discussed further below.

Adult Education in France

Both the U.S. And France enjoy a virtual 100% level of literacy, but the similarities largely end there. Indeed, the purpose and function of the public schools in these two countries have been shaped by their respective national cultures and, increasingly, the harsh economic realities of the 21st century. For example, in his book, Lifelong Learning in Action, Longworth (2002) reports that, “In France, there is a long tradition of parental responsibility for the cultural development of their own children. They tend to respect the traditions and disciplines of the school as a quid pro quo for their own involvement at home, and rarely do they question the authority of the head and staff” (p. 151). Despite this level of mutual respect, much has changed in recent years as the French social contract has been strained to its limits. As Longworth advises, “This situation is gradually breaking down under the pressures of modern living, the increasing irrelevance of a rigidly applied and measured school curriculum and family breakdown” (p. 151). Furthermore, there are some constraints to the provision of adult education services in France that have been avoided in the U.S. To some extent. For instance, according to Calder (1993), “Today education is an activity essentially associated, even in the mind of educators, with childhood. In spite of the volume of intentional learning, structured and organized, undergone after childhood by people throughout the world, when one speaks of education, one is normally referring to initial education” (p. 69). “It is therefore not surprising that education after childhood is perceived and practiced in terms of its relationship to childhood education and is determined by this perception to a degree that is perhaps too little realized. One not only talks but thinks of processes and organization of systematic study for persons beyond school age as post-initial, post-secondary, tertiary or further education, all terms expressing a perceived position relative to childhood schooling” (p. 69). Although compulsory education is required in both the U.S. And France, the French have inherited an antiquated system that is largely inappropriate for wholesale application to adult education settings. For example, Calder reports that:

In advanced countries it is impossible to ignore this. The school system is there, by statute. Any subsequent educational provision derives its basic assumptions about its clients from its perceptions of what the system has done or failed to do. One may see post-initial education as a continuation in varying degrees of school, or, conversely, as a necessity created to a greater or lesser extent by the inadequacies of the schooling children receive. The latter was the case of education populaire in France after World War II and had as its result a movement that set out as a matter of principle to adopt characteristics — local control by users, democratic organisation, informality, learner-centred learning, emphasis on learning processes, particularly active ones — which were the direct opposite of what it saw as those of French schools; however, by behaving in that fashion, it modeled itself according to those schools just as much as if it had set out to continue their work (Calder, p. 69).

There is consensus about the idea that a lesson-based essentially on the apparent convenience or fascination for teaching tools is doomed to failure. From an educational point-of-view, teaching tools are not neutral, if nothing else they depend on the teacher’s perceptions of learning styles and what s/he expects of learners in terms of the tools’ capabilities. In practical terms, a dominant learning style represents the likely starting point of how an individual marshals his/her resources. If this initial approach should fail, the learner might then turn to other learning modes.

While there remains a dearth of relevant studies concerning the specific cross-cultural differences in learning styles of adult learners in France and the United States, some valuable insights can be discerned from the extant body of evidence. For instance, citing the results of Mumford and Honey’s (1992) analysis of continuing education in France. Leleu-Merviel and her colleagues (2002) examined the results of one study of 179 French adult learners (“Study 1”) who completed a close-ended questionnaire at the Universite de Valenciennes to establish a four-facetted profile of learners, with each one of the four facets representing a maximum score of 100% each. According to Leleu-Merviel et al., “In this context, of the learners questioned: 70.8% describe themselves as Reflective; 67.2% see themselves as Theorizers; 66.1% consider themselves as Pragmatic; and 58% perceive themselves as being Activist. In short, more than two thirds of the French adult learners asked for a pedagogic structure that allows them time to carefully weigh the different sides of the question (Reflective), followed by their need to adopt the Theoriser (questioning) and Pragmatic (‘get the instructions-then-do it on your own’) learning modes” (p. 6). Following the completion of the initial questionnaire, an explanation of the four learning styles was provided to the respondents whereupon they were asked to explicitly identify which particular style best described their own approaches (“Study 2”). According to Leleu-Merviel and her colleagues, “The direct self report of perceived dominant learning style showed that: 40.5% of learners described themselves as Reflective; 33.5% of learners saw themselves as Pragmatic; 19% of learners saw themselves as Theorizes; and 7% of learners saw themselves as Activist. This study contrasts sharply to the results of the more indirect survey of perceived learning styles of their co-learners (Study 1)” (p. 7). Notwithstanding these disparities, the authors suggest that the unique French culture can help explain these differences. As these authors point out, “The impact of a directive (jacobine) and ‘rationalist’ French culture on adult learners’ perceived learning style could be an important factor in explaining the apparent gap between indirect (Study 1) and the more direct self-reports (Study 2)” (Leleu-Merviel et al., p. 7).

Based on the fact that self-observation in an indication of adult learners’ image of themselves and that of the educational process, French teachers in adult education must take into account the needs of Reflective learners who tend to focus on, for instance, gathering (consuming) information, rather than creating (producing) information (opposed to the Pragmatist and Activist modes). In addition, improved course planning for lessons for other types of learning styles such as Theorizers and Pragmatists is recommended (Leleu-Merviel et al.). Finally, compared to the results of the 179 learners polled in Study 1, these authors found that a significant number of adult learners in France did not appear to be aware of their own probable “learning style” when directly questioned concerning the subject as evinced in Study 2. According to these authors, “Failing to understand one’s learning style, may explain, in part, some of learners’ difficulties in attaining their learning objectives due to not being able to assimilate the data in an ‘appropriate’ way in terms of their cognitive processes” (Leleu-Merviel, Labour, Verclytte & Vieville, 2002).

Adult Education in the United States

Today, an increasing number of adults are continuing their education for one purpose or another. In fact, adult learners were projected to account for almost half of all students in the United States by the year 2006 (Carlan, 2001). While the purposes of such adult learning may vary, some educators suggest that some are more effective at delivering what adult learners need in a democratic society which has historically represented one of the fundamental purposes of education in the United States. For instance, according to Gray (2004), “Aside from strengthening our democracy, education’s role is arguably to promote individual opportunity and economic growth. This suggests that the viability of educational programs should be measured against the degree to which they promote these ends” (p. 128). For this purpose, a wide range of pedagogical styles have emerged over the years for adult education in the United States (see partial list at Appendix B).

As a percentage, there are more Americans in the workforce who spend more time on the job compared to their French counterparts. For example, in sharp contrast to many other advanced economies, the average annual workload in the U.S. increased, from 1,883 hours in 1980 to 1,966 hours in 1998, resulting in what some observers have termed a “leisure crisis” for adult Americans (Atkinson, 2006). According to this author, “Americans now work almost two weeks a year more than the Japanese, long derided as workaholic salarymen. And Americans take few vacation days (13) compared with 37 for the French” (p. 44). In addition, the United States also has a greater percentage of its total population in the workforce, due in large part to the increased participation of women and to a workforce that retires later (age 65.1 on average) than other advanced countries (e.g., age 59.3 in France) (Atkinson). Consequently, despite the so-called “leisure crisis” described above, the impact of this additional commitment to work has been that the United States enjoys one of the highest per capita income in the world, but the costs are high in terms of added stress, exhaustion, neglected children, and the loss of community (Atkinson).

Because most adult learning in the U.S. is voluntary, adults also have the option to simply stop attending educational programs that do not satisfy their specific requirements. In this regard, many American adults are time-conscious learners because they have many roles to fulfill (e.g., spouse, parent, employee, community member) besides that of being a learner. As a result, many American adults may seek programs that satisfy their educational goals as directly, quickly, and efficiently as possible (Stein, 2000). Clearly, though, what is important varies among different adults. Adults engage in educational programs for a variety of reasons; however, because adults are aware of which goals are most important to them, they tend to perform better in educational experiences that provide what they value (Stein).

Chapter 3: Data Analysis

While it may not be possible to exactly quantify specific differences in cultural influences on adult education, it is possible to identify some salient factors that relate to the cultures of France and the United States that can reasonably be expected to play a major role in the provision of these services. This point is made by Hoeken, Van Den Brandt, Crijns, Dominguez, Hendriks, Planken and Starren (2003), who report, “Differences in values lie at the core of cultural differences. Cultures differ with respect to which values are regarded as important. For instance, status may be considered more important than safety in some cultures, but this preference may be reversed in other cultures. Using value differences has become an effective way to describe cultural dissimilarities” (p. 195). In this regard, Hofstede (2001) notes a number of significant cultural differences even between European countries, suggesting that there are relevant differences in value hierarchies between these countries. In addition, cultural dissimilarities exist on dimensions other than the individualism-collectivism dimension used in previous studies (Hoeken et al.).

According to Hofstede, Van Deusen, Mueller and Charles (2002), “The first four IBM scores are now some 30 years old, but validations in recent large cross-national surveys proved them to be quite robust; they evidently succeeded in tapping historically stable components of national culture differences” (p. 785). Likewise, Blanchard and Frasson note that Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions are the most famous cross-cultural work and remain a major reference in cross-cultural research today. “In fact,” they conclude, although many attempts to define and measure culture exist, all of them have produced convergent results, which validate the concept of cultural dimensions as enounced by Hofstede” (p. 37).

Generally speaking, Hofstede (2001) distinguishes five dimensions on which different cultures can be compared: (a) individualism-collectivism, (b) uncertainty avoidance, – power distance, (d) masculinity-femininity, and (e) long-term vs. short, term orientation. In sum, these different cultural dimensions are based on the results of a factor analysis gleaned from an extensive survey among people from 53 countries. Each dimension was measured by a number of questions. The scores of these questions were combined to compute an index value for each country. This index score was computed to range from 0 to 100. Hofstede (1984, 2001) reported two results for each represented country: An index value and a ranking placement (ranked low to high).

The results showed that European countries did not differ significantly on several dimensions. For instance, most European countries are positioned at the individualism extreme of the individualism-collectivism dimension, at the short-term extreme of the long- versus short-term orientation, and at the medium and low extreme of the power distance dimension (Hofstede, 2001). On the other two dimensions, uncertainty avoidance and masculinity, European countries did differ significantly. In our study we focused on uncertainty avoidance.

Hofstede (2001) defines uncertainty avoidance as “the extent to which members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations” (p. 161). European countries are found at the top (e.g., Portugal & Belgium), in the middle (e.g., Austria & Germany) and at the bottom of the list (e.g., Sweden & Denmark). Further corroboration for the assumption that uncertainty avoidance is a relevant dimension is found in De Mooij (2001). She reports data on correlations between consumption patterns in European countries and the scores of these same countries on Hofstede’s dimensions. The data show that uncertainty avoidance is strongly correlated wish consumer behavior, thereby underscoring the relevance of this dimension for cultural differences in Europeans (Hoeken et al.).

In their study, Hoeken and his colleagues targeted four European countries: (a) the Netherlands, (b) Belgium, – France, and (d) Spain; the latter three are considered high uncertainty avoidance cultures. Belgium’s index value is 94 (Rank 5); the index value of France and Spain is 86 (Rank 10); by contrast, the Netherlands is considered to have a relatively low uncertainty avoidance culture (index value: 53; rank: 35). Based on the mean (65) and the standard deviation (24) of the scores on this dimension, the scores of Belgium, France, and Spain differ significantly from that of the Netherlands (Hoeken et al.). Despite these generalizations, it is important to keep in mind that they are not universally applicable at the individual level. For example, Hoeken and his colleagues emphasize that, “Using Hofstede’s dimensions in cross-cultural research is often criticized for simply extending country scores to individuals. Certainly, one would expect that there are many Belgian, French and Spanish citizens who do not feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations” (p. 196). Despite these constraints Hofstede’s cultural dimensions remain the most widely used cross-cultural research tool today and these concepts are discussed further below as they relate to the specific differences between France and the United States.

Geert Hofstede’s Five Cultural Dimensions.

Based on Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions, it is clear that there are some profound differences between France and the United States as shown in Figure __ below. As can be seen in Figure ____, in terms of the Power Distance Index, which focuses on the degree of equality, or inequality, between people in the country’s society, the United States measures approximately 64% of the rating assigned to France (Hofstede, 2008). By sharp contrast, though, France, which is supposed to be highly individualistic (Blanchard & Frasson), rates about 88% of the score assigned to the United States for the individualism dimension (Hofstede, 2008) which focuses on the degree the society reinforces individual or collective achievement and interpersonal relationships (Hofstede, 2001); however, both countries have relatively high ratings for this dimension. According to Gouveia and Ros (2000), “Individualism, considered as one dimension with two poles, is defined as an assessment of the emotional independence and autonomy of the person” (p. 26). The cultural mean of a country is scored high in this factor if there are favorable responses to items on Hofstede’s questionnaire such as:

Have a job which leaves you sufficient time for your personal or family life;

Have considerable freedom to adapt your own approach to the job; and,

Have challenging work to do – work from which you can get a personal sense of accomplishment (Hofstede 2001 quoted in Gouveia & Ros at p. 26).

By contrast, countries with high scores in collectivism assign more importance to factors such as the following:

Have training opportunities (to improve your skills or learn new skills);

Have good physical working conditions (good ventilation and lighting, adequate work space, etc.).

According to Gouveia and Ros, countries with high collectivism scores care more about what the organization can do for the individual. Citing Hofstede’s research, these authors report, “Individualism would reflect the emotional independence of the person with respect to groups and organizations, while its absence would be similar to an emotional dependence and a feeling of ‘us.’ Individualism is inversely related to the power distance dimension. Therefore, at least at a cultural level, individualism is the opposite of the acceptance of hierarchy and of ascribed social inequality” (Gouveia & Ros, p. 26).

As to the masculinity dimension which focuses on the degree the society reinforces, or does not reinforce, the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control, and power (Hofstede, 2001), here again France is rated about 33% less than the United States, but also here again, both countries have a significant rating for this dimension nevertheless. There are some more dramatic differences evident in the Uncertainty Avoidance Index which focuses on the level of tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity within the society – i.e. unstructured situations (Hofstede, 2001) for the U.S. And France, with France being rated about an 83 while the U.S. is rated about half of that at 43. Finally, France does not show up as even a blip on Hofstede’s Long-Term Orientation dimension which focuses on the degree the society embraces, or does not embrace long-term devotion to traditional, forward thinking values, while the United States is rated at about 24 on this dimension.


Power Distance Index:

IDV = Individualism:

MAS = Masculinity:

UAI = Uncertainty Avoidance Index

LTO = Long-Term Orientation complete definition and description of these five cultural dimensions is provided at Appendix a.

Chapter 4: Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations


As noted in the introduction, this study was guided by several research questions which are reiterated and answered in sum below:

Do the same training tools create a different perception between United States and French groups of adult learners? If so, how can learning styles and cultural dimensions explain such differences? Based on the review of the relevant literature, it is clear that French and American adult learners share some commonalities such as a high level of motivation and the ability to self-direct their resources to the best advantages; however, the research also showed that French and American adult learners have experienced profoundly different national education approaches and are characterized by significant cultural differences as exemplified by Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions that can explain such differences in general terms but not on an individual level.

Is there a relationship between each learning style and the culture where training is delivered? The research was consistent in emphasizing this relationship.

Do cultural dimensions affect the learning style preference in each culture? The research was also consistent in emphasizing the impact of Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions on the preferred learning styles of French learners, but there remains a paucity of cross-cultural studies concerning how these cultural dimensions affect adult learners in the United States.

Do learning styles and cultural dimensions explain the perception difference caused by different training tools? It is reasonable to posit that the more significant differences between the U.S. And France across the five dimension continuum will have a marked influence on what learning styles are favored in one cultural setting over another, a position that was supported in large part by the research; however, the remains a need to keep in mind that these findings are not extendable to the individual level but rather reflect the larger society in which such educational services are delivered.


As also noted above, this study was guided by several hypotheses that these research questions sought to confirm or refute; these are reiterated and answered in sum below:

American and French trainees do not perceive the same training tools in the same way. Americans give more value to simulations and practice while the French give more value to theories. Americans will be ready to apply skills learned if they could use them during the training and if the trainer appears to be credible from her attitude and personal experience. French will be ready to apply communication skills learned if they have evidence based on research that they work, and if they feel that they will not be judged by their peers, sounding or looking awkward. This hypothesis was confirmed.

American trainees are more activist in their learning style, while the French are more theorists. The findings to date failed to confirm or refute this hypothesis, with mixed results being identified.

American trainees are more individualistic, disregard power distance, are more comfortable in a high uncertainty avoidance environment, and communicate in a lower context than their French counterpart They will not mind the judgment of others in their implementation process as the French do. The comparison of the United States and France along the five-cultural dimension continuum developed by Hofstede confirmed this hypothesis.

The preference of learning tools (role plays, games, videotaped exercises, theories, demonstrations) is related to the preferred learning style and to dominant cultural dimensions. Based on the same rationale as in no. 3 above, this hypothesis was also confirmed.


Based on the study’s findings, the following recommendations are submitted:

1. To increase both the demand and supply of high-performance skills, national governments could increase funding for adult education and workforce development programs and provide seed funding for collaborative industry training ventures; these policies would fuel productivity as well as encouraging more firms to move to high-performance workplaces (Atkinson).

2. French teachers of adult learners should take into account the needs of their Reflective learners who tend to focus on gathering information, rather than creating it.

3. Finally, in order to develop instructional designs that are appropriate to each learning style identified among French and American adult learners, the following strategies should be employed for each predominant learning style type:

a. Reflectors need instruction that is discussion-or simulation-oriented. They need to see patterns, probe, question, and reflect. They seek to answer the question, “Why.” The instructor’s role for reflectors is to motivate and witness.

b. Theorists need instruction that is structured, factual, and challenging. They need to analyze, organize, classify, and use logic to see the interrelationships between concepts. They seek to answer the question, “What.” The instructor’s role is to give them the facts.

Pragmatists need instruction that is practical, involving problem-solving activities, with the instructor acting as a facilitator and a coach. They seek to answer the question, “How.” And they desire to discover on their own the links between content and opportunities to solve real-life problems.

c. Activists need instruction that focuses on self-discovery with the instructor being an assessor of process and product. Activists prefer to focus on evaluations, summaries, and syntheses. They enjoy role-playing and competitive tasks. They seek to answer the question, “What if” (Leonard, p. 69).


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Appendix a Geert Hofstede’s Five Cultural Dimensions



Power Distance Index (PDI)

This dimension measures the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more vs. less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality, of course, are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some international experience will be aware that ‘all societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others’.

Individualism (IDV)

This dimension on the one side vs. its opposite, collectivism is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side are found societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side are found societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The word ‘collectivism’ in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state. Again, the issue addressed by this dimension is an extremely fundamental one, regarding all societies in the world.

Masculinity (MAS)

This dimension vs. its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The IBM studies revealed that (a) women’s values differ less among societies than men’s values; (b) men’s values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women’s values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women’s values on the other. The assertive pole has been called ‘masculine’ and the modest, caring pole ‘feminine’. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men’s values and women’s values.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)

This dimensions deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man’s search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, and different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth; ‘there can only be one Truth and we have it’. People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions.

Long-Term Orientation (LTO)

This dimension vs. short-term orientation is the fifth dimension found in a study among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars This dimension deals with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values associated with Long-Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Short-Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one’s ‘face’. Both the positively and the negatively rated values of this dimension are found in the teachings of Confucius, the most influential Chinese philosopher who lived around 500 BC; however, the dimension also applies to countries without a Confucian heritage.

Source: Hofstede, 2008.

Appendix B

Current Philosophical Perspectives on Adult Education

Autonomy-Driven Humanist Critical-Humanist

Philosophies Knowles (1980) Mezirow (1995)

Worldview Psychological Rational/psychological

Goal of Education Personal Fulfillment Autonomy

View of Difference Generic Personality

Teacher’s role Technician Facilitator

Student’s role Self-Teacher Rational Constructor

Relationally-Driven Feminist-Humanist

Philosophies Belenky, et al. (1986)

Worldview Relational

Goal of Education Personal Development

View of Difference Gender

Teacher’s Role Midwife

Student’s Role Relational Constructor


Autonomy-Driven Critical-Emancipatory

Philosophies Freire (1971)

Worldview Rational/sociological

Goal of Education Social Change

View of Difference Class

Teacher’s role Liberator

Student’s role Modern Activist

Relationally-Driven Feminist-Emancipatory

Philosophies hooks (1994)

Worldview Cultural/Structural

Goal of Education Social Transformation

View of Difference Positionality

Intersections of race, gender, class and sexuality)

Teacher’s Role Mediator — Confrontor

Student’s Role Postmodern Activist

Source: Taylor & Tisdell & Taylor, at p. 8.