Gender Issues in Online Education

Gender Issues in Online Education

Lesley S. J. Farmer (California State University Long Beach, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-791-3.ch008
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Abstract

Women constitute the majority of U.S. online learners, an environment that can cloak gender issues. Nevertheless, people bring their experiences and attitudes to the educational table, and gender remains a significant factor that online educators need to consider. This chapter focuses on the biological and social aspects of gendered learning and self-identity as they apply to online learning, particularly in Western societies. Gender-sensitive instructional design and technology incorporation strategies are provided to support gender-equitable engagement in online education.
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Biological-Based Learning

Gender differences in learning start with the brain; even in the womb, male brains are larger and more rigid than girls. Male right brains, where abstract thinking and sequencing dominate, are thicker than girls, although girls tend to have thicker left brains, which impact image and holistic thinking. Girls’ brain hemispheres are more connected than boys so their brain is more coordinated (Sousa, 2001). When crises occur, the lower part of boys’ brains dominate: fight or flight; in contrast, girls’ upper thinking brain dominates in such cases, which may explain why girls tend to take fewer risks (Moir & Jessel, 1991).

Learning demonstrates sexual developmental differences. While some differences even out over time, having initial advantages in specific modalities of perception and processing can impact later learning. In infancy, boys are less bothered by loud noises than girls, who prefer soft tones and singing; on the other hand, girls have better hearing and are able to distinguish emotional nuances. Developmentally, girls develop their language skills earlier, and boys flex their already greater muscle more (Gurian & Henley, 2001). Similarly, boys play out their emotions through action while girls use words; for this reason, boys tend to prefer icon prompts while girls prefer textual ones in software (Cooper & Weaver, 2003). Unfortunately, because girls tend not to play with spatially manipulated toys as much as boys, they are less prepared to succeed later with mechanical and spatial challenges (Moir & Jessel, 1991). In terms of emotional development, even as early as the primary grades, boys are better able than girls to separate emotion from reason. On the other hand, by sixth grade, boys are more likely to take aggressive action to solve problems. Interestingly, primary boys are more rule-bound than their female peers; by their teenage years, though, boys rebel more against those rules than do girls (Gurian & Henley, 2001). Recognizing these early differences, online instruction can leverage these differences by motivating youngsters through gender-specific comfortable modalities to present new content, and presenting familiar subject matter through less-practiced learning modalities; in this way, students strengthen less developed approaches to learning.

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