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Jeansonne | December 13, 2017

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Individualism vs Collectivism

Individualism vs Collectivism

Much of the current rhetoric in education promotes collaboration through web 2.0 tools as a way to build knowledge within communities:  let them use it, they will learn. However, knowledge building comes from discourse rather than dialogue and is a skill which individuals and tools struggle with. Western society promotes the individuals voice (that’s why I blog) and knowledge requiring the approval of someone within a hierarchy.

Let’s look at the differences.

Individualism and Collectivism.  

Here is a nifty chart I made to share with you.

(update March 26, 2013)

click on it to open in a new window.

making voices visible on line Individualism and collectivism

The extremes are meant to illustrate a distinction, not a purist view.   Kim and Bonk (2002) suggest that sociolinguist paradigms can influence the process of assessment and highlighted some differences in their research. Danish college students are more reserved while American students are more expressive (Bannon, 1995, as cited in Kim & Bonk, 2002).  They go on to illustrate a few more.  Asian American students ask fewer questions and are less likely to use trial and error. They are more hesitant to being watched. American students post more while Finnish students keep silent. Japanese students post more online than they speak. Adult Asian students rely heavily on tutors in an online environment  Korean students show a higher level of social interaction than Finnish or American students. Keep in mind, many online courses rely on blogs and posts and online interaction.  Understanding some aspects of sociolinguistics may help educators design better assignments that require “posts”.



Individuals from extremely western individualistic cultures may connect but generally lack the discourse skills found in collective societies that resemble the online group dynamics. Many of the criteria we use to evaluate an engaged and successful student is mired in the communicative paradigms of an individualistic culture. We need to understand the nature of sociolinguistics to effectively collaborate online if we ask students to  create knowledge through dialogue. The next series of post will address these topics and are based largely on my research in my final project for my Masters: Making Voices Visible: A Literature Review of the Properties of Knowledge-Creating Dialogue (2011).  

How might we design different  teaching pedagogy, strategies, and the assignments to meet the value based learning needs of students from a collective society?

psuedo-disclaimer: I grew up in a small village of Innu and people of Euro-Canadian heritage. My great-grandmother was Inuit.  Many people in the village were of mixed heritage but it is only recently that my generation discovered their ancestry.  It took me a while to recognize that that my world-view was never explicitly one or the other either. It is “miksa”, between worlds.  I wonder if that makes a difference?


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