Higher Education

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 341-354

First online:

The intention to both memorise and understand: Another approach to learning?

  • David KemberAffiliated withHong Kon Polytechnic University

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


In distinguishing deep and surface approaches, an important determinant is the intentions to understand and memorise respectively. A student adopting a surface approach does not seek understanding and, therefore, relies upon memorisation. Understanding and memorising are, then, seen as almost mutually exclusive as far as intent is concerned, although those seeking understanding may make some strategic use of memorisation for particular tasks. This paper reviews emerging evidence of an approach which combines memorising and understanding. The research has been conducted in the Asian region, and so provides part of the explanation for the “paradox” of the Asian student. There has been widespread anecdotal evidence of “rote-learning” and yet Asian students are often high achievers. Several plausible explanations for the occurrence of the approach are advanced. These include limited ability in the language of study leading to a narrow systematic pattern of study, cultural traditions respecting order and diligent study, and the need for children to learn the language characters.