Are Europeans More Confrontational Learners Than Americans?

An Analysis on How Different Cultures Interact in Online Discussions

Our mission at Ment.io is to bring discussions that are intelligent, deep and thoughtful to higher education courses around the world. Interestingly enough, we’ve found that the behavior of users in different cultures and geographies varies in some very surprising ways.

Discussion Trends That May Surprise You

We analyzed the meta data based on the behavior of tens of thousands of learners across 48 countries, which was totally anonymized to protect user privacy.

We looked at how students behaved based on several factors, including the rate of disagreement, amount of participation per discussion, and length of comments. We then divided them up into five distinct geographic regions (US, Canada, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East) and looked for statistical differences between them.

Before we dig into our findings, here are some highlights that stood out to us: 

  • European students are more likely to challenge their peers, with Germans contributing the most to this trend.
  • Asian students are the most likely to participate but the least likely to challenge their peers.
  • Americans disagree 1.5 times more than Canadians, while Canadian students write arguments that are 30% longer than the Americans.
  • Middle Eastern students write shorter arguments with 50% fewer words than students from other regions.

Which Region is Most Likely to Disagree?

When replying to an answer or comment on the Ment.io discussion board, users are obligated to either Agree or Challenge. This is designed to capture the structure and dynamic of the argumentation process, which is at the root of Ment.io unique AI-based discussion analyzer. We measured the percentage of comments in a discussion that opted to challenge, split up by region.

Median disagreement % by Region

You can see on the above graph that Europeans are more likely to challenge their peers, especially when compared to Asians and Canadians. This is an expected outcome if you’re familiar with the cultural stereotypes of Europeans being more straightforward and Asians/Canadians being less transparent with negative feedback.

Let’s Agree to Disagree

Finding common ground with peers is undoubtedly important to education. However, it is equally important for students to challenge each other and learn from those with different perspectives. 

This is not a novel idea. In fact, putting argumentation and disagreements at the core of understanding and progress goes all the way back to the Jewish tradition of the Talmud. It continued through much of the Western Philosophical tradition from Socrates to Karl Popper. (That is, unless you subscribe to the theorem of Nobel Laureate Israel Aumann, who famously proved that mathematically that we cannot rationally agree to disagree.)

Additionally, by learning to become comfortable with challenging peers, students are prepared for entering the modern workplace, where differing opinions often lead to progress and career success. Analytical skills are key for the ability to collaborate in a data driven world.

Which Region is Most Likely to Participate?

For this analysis, we measured the percentage of active students that participate in a discussion. This includes adding answers or comments, voting, and reading others’ posts.

Median Participation % by region

We found that, on average, students from Asia and North America participated in discussions at the highest rate. On the other end of the spectrum, students from Europe were the least likely to participate.

Participation Has Its Place

Students being active in their online discussion board is clearly important. However, when too much weight is placed on participation metrics, it runs the risk of turning into a measurement more akin to taking attendance. 

Also, it’s important to recognize that participation can look different for each student. Ultimately, which is more valuable? A student that replies to every question, answer and comment without reading what others are saying, or someone who listens to their peers and only contributes when they have something of value to say? 

It is generally better to have a deeper exchange when participants relate to one another, than a shallow discussion where each student answers the professors’ question without relating or getting into an argument with the peers. Learning is a collaborative endeavor, hence the depth of the argument plays a crucial role.

Which Region is the Most Efficient in Their Arguments?

For this analysis, we measured the number of words in a contribution. Either answers and comments are considered contributions. 

Canadian users write the longest arguments, while Middle Eastern users write the shortest arguments. Some of this data can be explained by the differences in language, as English often requires longer statements to convey a message. The fairest comparison may be between the American and Canadian users, since they usually use the same language.

Why Brevity Matters in Online Discussions

While brevity may be the soul of wit, it must be used discerningly when contributing to an asynchronous class discussion. In order for an argument to be believed and gain a consensus from peers, it must be backed up with proper evidence and references.

However, using too many words to get a point across can also backfire. It is recommended that students consider their word count wisely, lest they lose the attention of their readers.

These lessons are also valuable for the workplace. When discussing projects via email, Slack, or any other forum, getting your point across in a convincing, yet efficient manner, is a valuable skill to have.

Cultures May Be Different, Learning is the Same

While these different cultures may behave differently on the Ment.io platform, their students all stand to benefit. No matter the behavioral differences, asynchronous learning encourages inclusivity and is a valuable addition to any modern curriculum.

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