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Gender Differences in Online Courses

Gender Differences in Online Courses
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Author(s): Raquel Benbunan-Fich (Baruch College, CUNY, USA) and J. B. Arbaugh (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, USA)
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 7
Source title: Encyclopedia of Gender and Information Technology
Source Author(s)/Editor(s): Eileen M. Trauth (Pennsylvania State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-815-4.ch088


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The effects of gender on learning outcomes of online courses depend upon general attitudes toward computers and computer usage, and particular perceptions of the online communication medium. The role of gender on use and attitudes toward computers has been studied thoroughly (Dyck & Smither, 1994; Gattiker & Hlavka, 1992; Whitely, 1997). There is also theoretical and empirical evidence suggesting that men and women conceptualize and use an online communication medium differently (Gefen & Straub, 1997; Herring, 1996). However, despite this body of work, the empirical evidence on the effects of these differences on learning perception and student achievement is mixed or inconclusive. In a recent review of the literature on gender effects in online courses, Hiltz and Shea (2005) conclude that some studies document advantages for women because they participated more than men and/or achieved greater success in online courses (Moskal & Dziuban, 2001; Ory, Bullock, & Burnasa, 1997), while other studies found no significant differences by gender (Arbaugh, 2000a; Bourne, McMaster, Rieger, & Campbell, 1997). Empirical research based on multi-course samples also reports inconsistent findings regarding the effects of gender on learning outcomes. For example, while Arbaugh (2005) found a negative relationship between women and perceived learning in graduate level online courses, Fredericksen, Pickett, Pelz, Swan, and Shea (2000) found small but significant differences indicating that women perceived higher levels of learning in online courses when compared to men. In contrast, in a comparison among face-to-face, pure online, and hybrid courses, Benbunan-Fich and Hiltz (2002) report that women obtained higher grades regardless of the mode in which the course was delivered, but that learning perception was not affected by gender. Since women and men differ in their preferred communication patterns, we believe that gender differences would emerge when we analyze online courses in terms of such patterns. Moreover, in order to understand such effects, researchers should take into account the instructional design of the courses in terms of how information is delivered through the medium and whether the students learn in isolation or in the context of collaborative exercises. The combination of the communication patterns that define the structure of online courses along with the gender-based preferences for these patterns will show whether there are gender differences in online courses and whether these differences affect learning outcomes. This article offers a new perspective to examine the effects of gender on outcomes of online learning. We begin by briefly reviewing the literature in technology-mediated learning environments and previous gender studies and developing gender-related hypotheses for this study. Then, we describe the research methods and the sample. The data comes from post-course surveys of more than 500 students enrolled in forty MBA courses entirely delivered online. We follow with the presentation of the results and their discussion and present the future trends and conclusions in the last sections.

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