The Impact of Diversity on Learnings Style Preferences

Principal Investigator: Mariia Berkova, MA
Collaborator: Prof. (FH) Mag. (FH) Martin Samek
Duration of the project: 8 months (IML Master Thesis)

Point of departure
This successfully defended master thesis examines the impact of diversity on learning style preferences, specifically the influence of a person’s culture on the way he or she learns. By diversity the author understands cultural differences between individuals. This research aims at analyzing if culture and a learning style are bound. The theoretical part of this thesis focuses on conceptualizing recent studies on the topic of diversity at the workplace and in education, problems associated with it, benefits that it can provide, ways to manage diversity and techniques of addressing different learning styles for better outcome and performance. The empirical part, a survey conducted on foreign students who study in Austria, consist of an assessment of the individuals’ learning styles and their affiliation to a culture. The results of this study provide further evidence, that one’s culture influences the learning style preferences. Being aware of this relationship one would be well advised to designing curricula, didactical concepts and the daily work in class according to the culture of the attendance at a lecture. Furthermore managers should assign tasks according to learning styles to support individual as well as team performance.

Research methods
During the exploratory phase, employees of Vienna-based embassies were interviewed as regards their perception of collaborating with local institutions, and potential intercultural impact factors in the relationship between themselves and external partners. By doing so, we were particularly curious to find out which of those impact factors were attributed to culture. In order to isolate key variables, which are pertinent to culturally informed perception differences, we focused on the items listed below: local and national holidays and calendars, time management in the context of locally accepted and time-related behavior, personality aspects (such as punctuality, table manners, and greeting etiquette), the language barrier, and perceived cultural differences of service providers (e.g. education facilities, health sector enterprises, financial institutions, shops, and public means of transportation). The core empirical research instrument employed in this project comprised structured interviews by e-mail, phone and in person (standardized questionnaire). The pilot study was conducted on all Vienna-based embassies (n=101), consulting one non-Austrian employee per embassy.

Results and findings
The most significant results were revealed in the category of greeting behavior. Cross-tabulation with age variables demonstrates that the perception of greeting behavior correlates with the respondents’ age structure. People aged 41 to 60 identified local greeting patterns as a negative impact factor on their work behavior. In contrast, the cohort of respondents aged below 30 holds rather positive perceptions of the local greeting etiquette, whilst study participants between the ages of 31 and 40 displayed indifference to this item. We could not extrapolate either local and national holidays, location- and time-bound patterns of behavior, or personal aspects (e.g. punctuality) as cultural problem factors. Strikingly, table manners appear to cause intercultural perception differences. The low response rate on this item, however, does not allow for inferences of statistical relevance. It can only be assumed that this trend is being shaped by a gender-specific correlation. Likewise, no significant results were found in the realm of enterprises (i.e. provision of services). Yet, the positive perception of the Viennese public transport system across all categories (such as gender and age) proved to be an exception to this rule. The continuation and further elaboration of this study is currently in the stage of planning, thus corresponding with LBS’s special interest in temporary and permanent migration of highly skilled workforce.

Mariia Berkova’s paper was accepted for the 7th Research Forum of the Austrian Universities of Applied Sciences 2013.