Could Online Learning Work to Close the Gender Gap?

Technology is already being used in education to help close both income and racial academic gaps. Is it possible to harness its power to close the gender gaps, too? In particular, can a full-scale deployment of technology in education help blur the rigid gender lines that seem to continue to define certain professional fields, like [...]

Technology is already being used in education to help close both income and racial academic gaps. Is it possible to harness its power to close the gender gaps, too? In particular, can a full-scale deployment of technology in education help blur the rigid gender lines that seem to continue to define certain professional fields, like education for women and technology for men?

Writing for Policymic.com, Rachel Goldberg explains that although the women now outnumber men when it comes to college completion, and rather than diminishing the gender imbalance in certain sectors of the workforce, they continue to be reinforced. Goldberg speculates that this is the reason why there continues to be a disparity between the incomes earned by men and women, since the fields dominated by women – such as education and nursing – pay less on average than the ones dominated by men, like technology, engineering and the hard sciences.

Most thinking people understand that this isn’t because women can’t do math or men can’t make great English teachers. Rather, this variation illuminates the cogs of our cultural machination, indicating that our socialization inclines us to choose gendered professions. And much of this is reflected in our education system, impacting how the sexes participate. Studies have shown that men are encouraged to be more vocal in school, while women may be rewarded for passivity and deferring to male peers.

Those who speak out against making classrooms more welcoming to technology and encouraging schools embrace online learning say that it removes the important socialization aspect of secondary education. Yet – if this is true – it is possible to look at this as a feature rather than a bug. If the social factors really are keeping women from embracing more math-heavy subjects and discouraging men from giving teaching a try, removing such factors could free students to make these choices based on their own preferences and aptitude rather than external pressures.

omen constitute the majority of U.S. online learners, and such an environment may cloak some of the negative gender discrepancies of the past. For example, female anxiety about body image has been linked to poorer academic achievement. Without the stress over appearing physically perfect at every lecture, women may simply perform better. Perks in online education, like convenience, flexibility, and the freedom from financial burden will also have a great appeal.

That is not to say – as Goldberg points out – that education tech is quite well developed enough to deliver on such promise. She readily admits that there are plenty of purely practical concerns that still need to be worked out before online learning can be fully embraced.

But once again, these problems could also be viewed as opportunities. Before the format solidifies into its final form, those working on it can still ensure that the academic needs of each individual student – regardless of gender – will be met.

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