Orientalism in learning has reinforced the marginalization and oppression of other learning systems of learning and knowing. Expansion of our understandings about different learning system can enrich our meaning-making processes, which can be beneficial for ourselves (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007; Reagan, 2000).

In western paradigm, learning is emphasis on cognition, cognitive development, knowledge, information processing and intelligence measurement
(Thorndike, Bregman, Tilton, & Woodyard, 1928). Yet collective and indigenous learning has dominated in non-western countries while rationalism and individual learning are dominant in the western learning paradigm.

Merriam et al. (2007) introduce five non-western learning principles: Confucianism; Hinduism; Maori concept; Islamic perspective; and African indigenous education. The authors indicate that the value of engaging and study non-western learning principles provide us opportunities to challenge the think about the purpose of education and learning as well as question the nature of knowledge production as well as leading us to make new meanings.

In this session, I focus on four Korean learning principles and introduce key concepts of each principle. The purpose of this in-depth documentation is to understand a non-western nation specific learning principles, and to make a sense of differences and commonalities of non-western learning principles.

First, the Great learning is defined as it is to enlighten the people’s (inborn) brightness; to refresh people’s warmth of body and mind (virtue); to cease people from going a wrong way; and to reach people to the ultimate goodness (Legge, 2009) [1]. In traditional Confucianism, the great learning can be achieved through eight steps:

1) investigation of things;
2) extension of knowledge;
3) sincerity of will;
4) rectification of the mind;
5) cultivation of one’s personal life (body);
6) regulation of the family;
7) regulation of the nation; and
8) accomplish world peach.

Different from the western learning principles, Confucianism learning includes both the individual and social, even the world, aspects of learning. Korean Confucianism scholars had debated about conceptual world versus material world over four hundred years. In early sixteenth century, many Korean scholars believed that a conceptual discipline dominated material world then learning should be a knowing process of the discipline.

But the theory was challenged that dynamics of material world shaped a conceptual discipline rather than the discipline formulated complex world. The debate inspired scholarly endeavors and influenced socio-political system of Korea for more than three hundred years. In the late nineteenth century, an innovative claim has emerged: only the material world exists. Based on the belief of this, a group of scholars insisted that only practical experience of material world is the real learning.
  The key characteristic of Korean Confucianism is that it does not limit ‘learning’ as individual activities but treat the learning as a main driver of socio-cultural system changes.

Second, Korean Buddhism is differentiated by its unique inquiry based learning discipline from other Buddhist disciplines. For example, a Buddhist monk gets an awkward question from his/her master. “Shoot the Buddha?” is one of typical inquiries in Korean Buddhism. Korean monks address those challenging inquires in their own meaning-making ways through their whole lives.

Third, Sundoism is focusing on material world rather than conceptual world. However, the material world what Sundoists believe is composed of ‘unmaterializable energy or force – called Ki.’ (Kim, 2003). Learning is, then, the process of practicing the energy.

Fourth, Dong-Hak is a uniqtue religion and epistemological practice that was formulated and introduced in late nineteenth century in Korea. Koreans suffered from colonialism attacks in the century, and a group of people challenged the conventional Confucianism, Buddhism, and Sundoism principles since they questioned these principles oppressed people rather than emancipate them from external threats. Integrating traditional principles, Dong-Hak sentenced a core value: respect human as the God. For Dong-Hak followers, learning is viewed as the lifelong process of awakening and cultivating internal Holy divine.

In conclusion, Korean have viewed the learning is the most important thing to realize their beliefs and wants such as being a righteous person, awakening, being a holy divine. However, these traditional non-western learning principles are in risk of extinction for failing in self-modernization and late industrialization. In addition, revival and revitalization of those traditional learning principles is questioned in modern society. HRD and adult education scholars may need to address the value of non-western learning principles to explore new knowledge and understanding of purpose and methods of learning.


Kim, H. (2003). The Tao of Life. (Dissertation/Thesis, Unpublished), Saybrook University.  

Legge, J. (2009). The Confucian Analects, the Great Learning & the Doctrine of the Mean: Cosimo Classics.

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning in adulthood a comprehensive guide The Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series (pp. xvi, 533 p.).  Retrieved from http://www.library.uiuc.edu/proxy/go.php?url=http://www.credoreference.com/book/wileyla

Reagan, T. G. (2000). Non-Western educational traditions: Alternative approaches to educational thought and practice: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Thorndike, E. L., Bregman, E. O., Tilton, J. W., & Woodyard, E. (1928). Adult learning: The Macmillan Company.



[1] A personal definition of the author by referring the Legge (2009)’s interpretation. 

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