Age, Race and Gender Issues Related to On-line Learning

Age, Race and Gender Issues Related to On-line Learning

M. F. Stuck (State University of New York, SUNY Oswego, USA) and Mary. C. Ware (State University of New York, SUNY Cortland, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-906-0.ch061
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Abstract

Research has shown that demographic factors such as age, race, ethnicity and gender affect one’s communication skills, learning style preference, and consequently, one’s preferences for aspects of on-line learning. This chapter will explore the literature related to these issues (i.e., age, race, gender) as they affect students’ preferences for and success with various styles of on-line learning (e.g., distance learning, hybrid or blended courses, mobile learning technology).
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Background

For some time now, on-line learning has been seen as the panacea for various goals and dilemmas related to higher education:

  • the early ideal of offering courses to students truly “at a distance” from the brick-and-mortar campus – ideally, adult students with busy lives and students not enrolled at one’s own institution – a marketing tool

  • the actuality of offering courses to one’s own students who have difficulties attending face to face classes – “non-traditional” students, students working full or part-time, one’s students still enrolled but serving in the military

  • the reality of offering courses to any student on any campus at any time

  • and the most recently noted positive aspect of on-line learning: the ability to continue delivery of courses in the event of disasters – natural (e.g., floods, H1N1 flu, blizzards) or man-made (e.g., biological or chemical attacks or other problems).

Despite these lofty goals, issues of age, gender, race, and social class have often not been explored sufficiently related to on-line learning.

Adult learners, sometimes called nontraditional adult learners, one of the first “targets” for on-line learning, express preference for on line learning and other forms of individualized credit-bearing instruction, given their busy schedules and demands of their lives. However, a mismatch between adult learners and distance learning has sometimes been predicted -- given adult learners’ relative lack of technology experience (compared to younger students) and need for frequent communication with instructors (Ausburn, 2003). Despite these observations, the largest group of on-line learners today are nontraditional (e.g., 26 and over) students studying part-time. It must be noted, however, that the dropout rate for on-line learning is higher than that for face-to-face instruction – perhaps implying that some of those who register are not prepared for the rigors and requirements of on-line learning (Diaz, 2002; Filkins et al., 2001, Frankola, 2001)

Diversity concerns have broadened research on learning style differences between the genders, and research also has focused on differences in races/ethnic groups in terms of learning/communication style and preference. Since distance learning’s effectiveness depends upon communication and learning style, developers of on-line instruction need to consider gender and racial differences as well as those related to age (Barrett & Lally, 1999; Proost & Elen, 1997; Sullivan, 2001).

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Gender Issues

The phenomenon of on-line/distance learning does not occur in a vacuum. The various contexts in which such learning resides (e.g., a student taking one course to learn a specific skill; a student taking a degree program on-line; an institution offering a selection of on-line courses) need to be recognized and articulated. It is in the social science realm that the ramifications of such categories as gender, race, and age (as context) are fully examined.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Race: A social construction of identity based loosely on external characteristics such as skin color, characteristics of one’s hair, and facial features.

Adult Learners: (also sometimes called “nontraditional adult students”) – refers to students who are beyond the traditional age of formal schooling (e.g., usually over 26 years of age).

Emotional Intelligence: The awareness of and ability to manage one’s emotions in a healthy and productive manner.

Racism: The “ideology that all members of each racial group possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially to distinguish it as being either superior or inferior to another racial group.”

Self-Efficacy: The perception of an individual that he/she would have the capability to perform in a way which would change the outcome of some event, in the case of an on-line course, the knowledge gained and the grade earned.

Pedagogy: Effective techniques for teaching individuals who are “traditionally aged” students (e.g., pre-kindergarten through college age).

Hybrid or Blended Courses: Distance learning courses which have a face-to-face component (e.g., some classes meet together; others are conducted on line).

Andragogy: Qualities or characteristics of effective education for adults (often contrasted with pedagogy – see below).

Mobile Learning Technologies: the use of PDAs, cell phones and other mobile devices in the design and use of distance learning courses.

Gender: A social construction of the expectations, rights and privileges that societies have decided that females and males should follow.

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