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Gender Considerations in Online Learning Part 2 of 2

Tomorrow's Academy

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"Technological advances and more enlightened policies and practice in education are putting the Internet in the hands of more and more women who can gain from the knowledge, networks, and learning communities on offer."


The posting below is the second part of the previous posting that examines gender considerations in online learning. It is from Chapter 12, Gender Issues in Online Learning, by Colin Latchem in the book, Culture and Online Learning: Global Perspectives and Research, edited by Insung Jung and Charlotte Nirmalani Gunawardena. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC. 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102. Copyright @2014 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. [] All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
UP NEXT: Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: A Guide for Students - Taking Action



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Gender Considerations in Online Learning Part 2 of 2

So, Does Online Learning Favor Women?

As shown, current research reveals a mixed account of whether women fare better or worse in online learning.  Yukselturk and Bulut (2009) found no gender differences in motivational beliefs, learning variables, and achievement in online learning.  Hyde (2005) found more significant learner differences within a female or male group than between groups of female or male learners.  Gunn et al. (2003) found that women often perform better than men in online learning, suggesting that some aspects of an online learning environment are beneficial to female students.  Fisher, Cox, and Gray (2008) suggested that the decreased opportunity for intrasexual competition, to which younger women are more sensitive, provides an explanation for their high participation rates in online courses.  Rovai and Baker (2005) found that female students in online graduate education courses in which they outnumbered males felt more connected to their fellow students, that their online learning experiences were more aligned to their educational values and goals, and that they learned more than their male peers.  It should be noted that all such studies relate to learners from different age groups or backgrounds and working within different instructional design and online environments, so it is impossible to draw overall conclusions.

Access and Culture

Internet access is fast becoming indispensable in a hyper-connected world, and Price (2006) reported that the numbers of women with online access in high-income countries often equal or exceed male levels of access. On the other hand, Burke (2001) suggested that different domestic arrangements of space and time in regard to home computers can be crucial factors in women's access to online learning.

When it comes to the developing world, the World Bank (2011) reported that many girls and women are unable to benefit from the opportunities offered by the new technologies because they lack the access, funds, education, and technical skills to participate equally in the knowledge economy. A recent Intel study (Kakar, Hausman, Thomas & Denny-Brown, 2013) found that nearly 45% fewer women than men have access to the Internet in sub-Saharan Africa; 35% in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa; and 30% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.  Interviewing women in Mexico, India, Egypt, and Uganda, the researchers found that the other major factors contributing to women's lack of online presence are long-held cultural attitudes and expectations that exclude them from the Internet and women simply not knowing what the Internet is or how it might benefit them.  In India, for example, they found that technology is still regarded as the exclusive province of men, women are concerned that their families wouldn't approve of them being online, and there are concerns within families, not without cause, about young inexperienced girls and women accessing undesirable material on the Internet or being connected through chat rooms and Facebook by sexual predators, kidnappers, and traffickers.

One in five women in India and Egypt interviewed in this Intel study felt that the Internet was inappropriate for them and had no information of any use to them. However, 75% to 80% of all the women surveyed regarded the Internet as "liberating." The greatest use of the Internet by the majority of these women was educational: studying and researching online and helping with their children's homework.  The second highest use was learning about health issues and services, which obviated the problems of limited access to medical professionals and embarrassment over discussing sensitive topics with men.

Infrastructure is expanding, there are almost as many mobile-cellular subscriptions as people on earth, fixed broadband prices dropped by 82% between 2008 and 2012, and 3G technology provides a means of serving rural subscribers in both developing and developed countries (International Telecommunications Union, 2013).  All of these developments, together with growing awareness among women that the Internet is a gateway to development opportunities augur well for increased women's learning online.

As shown in the following section, women are not only gaining from but also contributing to online learning.

Women Contributing to Online Learning

In his Hole-in-the-Wall ( computer experiment exposing children to basic PCs in poor parts of India, Professor Sugata Mitra found that children did best with adults offering advice and encouragement.  He reasoned that no one was as willing and able to do this as grandmothers.  This gave him the idea of the "Granny Cloud" or, to give it its official name, Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE).  Supported by the School of Education, Communication, and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, grandmothers in the United Kingdom and other countries, many of whom are retired teachers (there are also some male retirees involved), act as voluntary "e-mediators" for schoolchildren thousands of miles away in India.  These "grannies" help the children with their reading and learning about different cultural traditions.  Suneeta Kulkarni, who coordinates the scheme across India, says that she has seen big differences in the children's learning, and the scheme has now been extended to schools in Colombia, South America, and most recently the United Kingdom to help children in the early stages of reading (Wakefield, 2012).

Being more inclined to demonstrate communal characteristics, nurturance, and concern for others, women would appear to have exactly the qualities required for initiating and leading online educational and community development programs where there are no preexisting hierarchies or traditions of leadership and where the aim is social mobilization through awareness building, empowerment, capacity building, and creating participatory environments.  Kanwar, Ferreira, and Latchem (2013) provided examples of women creating and leading online learning communities to counter ignorance, maltreatment, gender bias, and discrimination within their societies and to spread beliefs, ideas, behaviors, and practices from one community to another and from one generation to another.

Jensine Larsen, the founder of World Pulse (, a nonprofit social media enterprise headquartered in Portland, Oregon, found that grassroots women in far-flung places who are denied a voice, devalued, or facing extreme discrimination in their communities and families can find encouragement and develop courage through online conversations with other women.  They in turn can become change agents in indigenous movements, unleashing the creative human potential of women across the globe.  Today, nearly 60,000 women in more than 190 countries connect through World Pulse.  They are speaking out on their most pressing issues, and their stories are being picked up by the BBC, CNN, TED, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the United Nations, the Huffington Post, and other media outlets.  This networking is also helping these women find jobs, start new programs and enterprises, and discover other means of changing their lives and lifting their communities.

Female information technology specialists Yasmine El-Mehairy and Zeinab Samir wanted to establish a start-up that added value rather than being yet another commercial online product.  Realizing that Middle Eastern and North African parents required different knowledge than Western parents on such matters as what babies should weight, vaccination schedules, and how to handle teenagers and lacked the money and time to obtain such information, they created a bilingual Arabic and English website SuperMama ( The content is designed specifically for mothers and mothers-to-be in the Arab world.  For example, European mothers are advised to give their children Vitamin D for bone development; in the Arab region, Vitamin D is naturally formed in the body as a result of the stronger sunlight.  Surveys and focus groups establish which topics and common problems are to be addressed.  The main writers are women working from home, and Arab and Egyptian volunteer specialists ranging from doctors and teachers to nutritionists and exercise experts confirm or dispel the indigenous child-raising knowledge that has been communicated between the generations.  Around 15% of the site's visitors are men, so one section is designed to help men better understand parenthood and child care issues. SuperMama is nonpolitical and nonreligious.  In its first month, the website had 2,000 registered users and over 20,000 unique visits.  SuperMama's revenue comes from advertisement banners, sponsorships, and product placements within the articles and videos, and the winning of a considerable number of national and international prizes ensures further investment (Beslui, 2013).

Core4women ( was founded in 2009 by Gail Weatherly, distance education coordinator at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.  She launched this free website after receiving many phone calls from women, some almost in tears, about the problems they were experiencing in studying while caring for their children.  The project began with a small group of female mentors familiar with online learning trialing the free Ning social networking site to assist a small group of female students who were victims of abuse or poverty. It was found that these women were far more willing to share their inner and intimate thoughts with other women than they would be with men. Core4women now uses Google Apps, and women in all U.S. states and 28 other countries use this website to share their concerns, experiences, ideas, and information and to seek guidance from voluntary mentors on how such matters as how to locate online degree programs, how to seek funding, how to register, how to engage with others in online environments, and how to juggle family or work responsibilities and study.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (2013) reported than 126 million women across the world are operating new businesses, and another 98 million are running established businesses.  But Burch (2013) posited that companies, communities, and countries recognized the need to invest even more in women's entrepreneurship because such investment is investment in the world's collective future. Women who are would-be entrepreneurs also need training in business skills, help in balancing work and family commitments, and advice on securing financing because they often lack capital or collateral and face discriminatory regulations and ingrained gender bias.

Women On the Web (WOW) ( aims to increase women's participation in the Google Business Groups (GBG), provide technology-enabled entrepreneurship opportunities for women by leveraging the power of the Internet at the early stage of their start-ups, and create an online community for sharing their experiences and supporting each other.  Begun in India, the program will be available in Latin America, South East Asia, India, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. WOW was conceived by some female googlers in Hyderabad in 2011. One of these women, Keerthana Mohan, recalled, "When we spoke to women entrepreneurs, we quickly gauged two things: an entrepreneurial appetite and the need for a lot more exposure online." The business leaders at Google were receptive to the idea, and the initiative was launched in January 2012 (Bhattacharya, 2013).

Goldman Sachs's 10,000 Women program provides underserved women around the world with training in business planning, marketing, finance, accounting, and management.  In September 2013, Goldman Sachs launched a public Twitter presence for this program using the handle @GS10KWomen. Within 1 month the account had over 20,000 followers.

The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women's Mentoring Women in Business Program ( enables successful male and female mentors around the world to provide online mentoring and support for women who are establishing small to medium enterprises in Malaysia, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, China, Pakistan, and the Philippines.  During the yearlong courses, the mentors Skype or use smart phones or tablets for fortnightly 1-hour sessions to help these female neophytes develop knowledge and skills in business and technology.  The process is shown to be having a positive impact on these aspiring entrepreneurs' English and ability to use technology and access and succeed in new markets.

In India, Chetna Sinha is an economist, farmer, activist, and founding president of the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank Ltd., a microenterprise cooperative development bank whose clients are women earning an average of INR 40 (US$1) a day. She also founded the Mann Deshi Foundation to empower and train women and self-help groups in business, entrepreneurism, property rights, and technology.  An FM community radio station, information kiosks equipped with information and communication technologies (ICTs) and a Mobile Business School for Rural Women (two custom-designed buses taking ICT-based training into the remote areas) enable thousands of women to learn about financial and business matters, receive vocational training, and become knowledgeable and skilled in computer and mobile phone operations.  This prepares them for establishing small enterprises such as making photo frames, making paper cups, running tea shops, and selling takeout foods, farm and garden produce, and cell phone recharge coupons (Sinha, 2013).


Technological advances and more enlightened policies and practice in education are putting the Internet in the hands of more and more women who can gain from the knowledge, networks, and learning communities on offer.  For those keen to expand the personal, social, and economic benefits of formal education, nonformal education, and informal learning across the globe, there has never been a better time to help girls and women realize their potential and improve the circumstances of their families, communities, and the world at large.

Green and Trevor-Deutsch (2002) found that in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific, the barriers faced by women in accessing online learning are the same as those they face in accessing education of any kind: illiteracy, shortage of time, and socio-cultural factors.  So to help women advance educationally, socially, and economically; provide social and political advocacy; and fight against injustice, discrimination and violence against women, new kinds of online networks are needed to link "connected" women with "unconnected" women's groups.

In applying online learning to development in developing countries, it is important to appreciate that the uses of the technology are socially constructed and may have different impacts on women and men.  So care is needed to ensure that the new tools, networking capabilities, and approaches accord with women's needs, priorities, and circumstances.  Outside formal Western education or academic contexts where women may initiate and author online programs, females are virtually absent as substantive producers of content.  It is therefore important that they are given training and support in producing content that is relevant to their needs and truly reflects their particular viewpoints, experiences, and concerns.

Von Prummer and Rossie (2001) stressed that in developed and developing countries alike, any educational institution or development agency striving for gender equity must be committed to presenting itself in a nonsexist and gender-inclusive way, have an explicit policy regarding the design and content of websites, institute monitoring procedures with sanctions for offenses  and take measures to educate users in netiquette.

As shown in this chapter, online learning environments may well inherit some of the culture, acquired behaviors, perspectives, and values of the traditional classroom and the groups or communities from which the teachers and learners are drawn.  So as Moore (2006) observed, for online learning to successfully address gender issues, teachers and learners need to step out of their own cultures and temporarily enter into the cultures of others.

It is always advisable to be alert to the fact that females and males may have distinct learning needs and ensure gender equality and flexibility in the online learning environment by doing the following:

* Ensure that all learners, male or female, enjoy the same degree and freedom of online access and comment.
* Never make assumptions based on gender regarding behaviors, abilities, or preferences of learners.
* Be aware that gender bias in education and wider society is a series of microinequities whose impact is cumulative and often        unrecognized or ignored.
* Avoid treating males and females differently on the basis of sex, but recognize that learners are diverse and have different         learning characteristics and needs.
* Make sure that expectations in subjects such as math and science are the same for all learners. Both sexes can succeed in         these subject areas.
* Check all content, examples, activities, and language metaphors that create or perpetuate gender bias.
*  Be alert to gendered expectations and use of praise and other feedback.
* Provide for cross-sex collaboration in learning activities and project work.
* Encourage both male and female learners to undertake the technical aspects of the work, perform in leadership roles, and         provide role models.
* Be alert to the possibility of gender bias in peer ratings by learners.
* Be alert to any uneven ratio of learner-learner and learner-teacher interactions.
* Monitor and obtain feedback on learner-interaction styles.
* Be sensitive to how learners of both sexes feel about the cultural climate of the online environment.
* Avoid any form of online harassment or sexist behavior.


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