Cooperative Learning : Potentials and Challenges for Chinese Management Education

Dean William TJOSVOLD, Zi-you YU, Sofia SU

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In one of the world's most audacious experiments, China is transforming itself from a centrally controlled economy and socialist society to a market driven economy and open society. The thrust is economic, but the reform affects the daily lives of over a billion people. Chinese educators realize that they must update their methods to prepare their students to negotiate this changing, demanding world. Management education in particular is widely believed to be critical for successful reform. Chinese universities are joining forces with Western business schools to offer MBA degrees as well as their own management courses. In 1986, there were only 38 MBA graduates from one program offered by the State University of New York. In 1991, nine Chinese universities, including Tsinghua, Peking, and the China Peoples' University, began MBA programs. By 1999, there were more than 23,000 MBA students and 5,000 graduates. In 2003, more than 44,000 students took the entrance examination and applied for MBA programs in 62 universities. Based on research and our professional experiences in teaching managers in Hong Kong and mainland China, we argue that cooperative learning techniques can contribute very much to educational reform in China and, in particular, to management education. Cooperative learning is a research-based approach to developing and utilizing the relationships among students to promote educational objectives. Typically, it involves small groups of students with the goal of helping each student learn and master the course content. It is more than group learning as students develop relationships where they feel they are on the same side and have a vested interested in promoting each other's learning. Students are expected to support each other and engage in intellectual controversies to explore and question ideas. Professional experience has developed many practices-such as cooperative note-taking and peer discussion-that can be applied even in large lecture-oriented classrooms (Johnson & Johnson, 1991). Educators can help students learn with and through each other by using cooperative learning techniques. Some researchers have objected to applying Western ideas and practices in China and, specifically, have questioned the cultural appropriateness and utility of high student-involvement approaches like cooperative learning in Chinese classrooms (Earley, 1997; Earley & Gibson, 1998; Hofstede, 1993). Many practical challenges exist in implementing cooperative learning. Although assigning students to groups is straightforward, helping them develop their relationships and interactions so that they all learn is a complex challenge for instructors and students alike. Many students who have adopted traditional Chinese classroom values-such as trying to outdo each other-have little experience and few skills in supporting each other's learning, discussing and debating ideas together, and resolving conflicts. In this chapter, we review research support for the benefits of cooperative learning in management education in China and present ways to overcome barriers and implement cooperative learning successfully. In the first section, we discuss how cooperative learning can contribute to the reform of management education in China. In the second section, we review objections to cooperative learning as culturally inappropriate-versus our view that cooperative learning is compatible with Chinese values. In the third section, we argue that Chinese values can support cooperative learning. In the fourth section, we review research and the rationale for cooperative learning in China. In the fifth section, we use recent studies to show how Chinese values can support spirited, productive, cooperative teamwork. In the final section, we note procedures that we have found particularly useful in Hong Kong and mainland China classrooms.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cutting Edge of International Management Education
EditorsCharles WANKEL, Robert DEFILLIPPI
PublisherInformation Age Publishing Inc.
ISBN (Electronic)9781617352713
ISBN (Print)9781593112059
Publication statusPublished - 2004

Publication series

NameResearch in Management Education and Development

Bibliographical note

The authors thank the Hong Kong University Grants Council for its support of this chapter, grant project TDG2001-04LC-2.


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