How can eLearning improve gender equity in education?
But ultimately, women’s increased (and majority) presence in traditional higher education spaces isn’t guaranteed to translate into increased success post-education—as any woman who’s been subjected to the gender wage gap can tell you. Despite their significant lead (by 2018, 44.3% of students were women, compared to 37.6% for men), women continue to face unique, gender-based challenges in traditional classrooms. But why? Because the physical university experience is still unequal.
That’s because it’s not just about equality- it’s about equity, too (GWU Article).
It’s no secret that a great many industries experience a dearth of women workers, leaders, and C-suite members, which is a direct result of lingering inequalities and barriers in higher education. It’s also no secret that the bulk of home care and/or childcare falls to women. This “second shift” can create significant disadvantages for women trying to complete their higher education degrees (not to mention throughout their entire careers).
But online learning is poised to provide greater gender equity to women learners. Here’s how.
One way online learning is more accessible to women is their potential as “safe(er) spaces.” Studies show that women are much less likely to participate and ask questions in in-person academic discussions. Online learning environments provide a more equitable platform for questions, discussions, and collaboration, as many women report feeling more comfortable speaking up virtually. In fact, women report that online learning makes them feel more connected to their peers, aligns better with their educational goals, and helps them learn better, and more, overall.
Online learning also helps provide greater access to degrees and courses that have historically been thought of as difficult to access or otherwise unapproachable for women, such as STEM. A commonly cited issue contributing to the gender gap in STEM fields is the lack of female role models (i.e., professors and mentors). eLearning allows for a larger pool of potential teachers and greater access to different and more diverse options than other, more traditional learning institutions.
Convenience and Flexibility
Online learning is, at its core, more convenient and flexible than traditional, in-person educational paths. With online learning, women can make education fit into their schedules instead of rearranging their lives to serve their education’s needs. A lack of disruption to daily routines that may be dominated by child, family, or home responsibilities is precisely one of the reasons many women can pursue degrees that they may otherwise not have been able to fit into their schedules.
And the gains for women are massive. Even just one additional year of schooling brings future wages up 12% for women. That’s 12% lost for a woman who doesn’t have the time or ability to attend traditional campuses. And for a workforce that in general pays women less than men for the same jobs and titles, that can be a devastating blow.
Simply put, eLearning is more affordable than traditional education. For students whose families are affected by the gender wage gap, or for women working to put themselves through college (and thus likely also negatively affected by the gender wage gap), quality higher ed institutions can simply be out of their reach, budget-wise.
In many instances, online learning is a more cost-effective option. It’s also more possible to spread out their education, thereby making it more affordable, with online learning—meaning women are better positioned to tackle more advanced or otherwise difficult to obtain degrees, allowing them to compete at a higher level post-education than they may have otherwise been able to.
Overall, it’s clear that though women lead in higher education enrollments, that advantage doesn't translate to success in their careers post-education, as evidenced by the ever-widening gender wage gap. Change begins with equity in education—and online learning is poised to help propel women further forward in our society post-education.