A Gender-Based Comparison of the Learning Strategies of Adult Business Students

Article excerpt

Due to a growing number of female students entering the business classroom, educators have to understand the learning needs and characteristics of these students. This paper describes a study comparing the learning and study strategies of female and male business students at a liberal arts college. The results indicate that adult females come to the business classroom more motivated than their adult male, or traditional male or female counterparts. At the same time, they experience high levels of anxiety which can inhibit their academic success. The paper suggests techniques these students can employ to deal with that anxiety.

**********

In 1960, female students accounted for less than 35 percent of U.S. college enrollment. By 2002, that figure was over 57 percent (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2001). Equally dramatic growth has been seen in the field of business administration: today nearly half of all business students are females. What is more, while an estimated 30 percent of all female business students are over 25 years of age, 70 percent of all part-time female business student are over 25 (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2001.) With these figures, today's educators--particularly the adult educator--have to be alert to any gender-based learning differences (Sandier-Smith, Allinson, Hayes, 2000). To better identify and understand these differences, this paper describes a study comparing the learning characteristics of male and female adult business students.

Literature Review

Gender-based learning differences

Gender-based learning differences are most pronounced in the areas of motivation and quantitative skills. While there is no significant differences in extrinsic motivation between male and female business students (Fraser, Lytle, & Stolle, 1978; Tyson, 1989), Tyson found differences between the sexes in intrinsic motivation. Females scored significantly higher on "work needs" (the desire to perform a task well), slightly lower on "mastery needs" the desire for new and challenging tasks), and significantly lower on "interpersonal competitiveness" (the desire to outperform others). Research indicates that academic performance is positively correlated with high work and mastery needs and negatively correlated with high interpersonal competitiveness (Williams, 1991). Since several studies have shown that females perform better in the business classroom than males (Mutchler, Turner, & Williams, 1987; Bayes & Nash, 1989), Tyson (1989) concluded that this is because of these intrinsic motivation differences.

While these studies did not differentiate between "adult learners" (generally reported as 25 years and over [Bishop-Clark & Lynch, 1992; Hite, Bellizzi, & Busch, 1987]) and "traditional" students (under 25), research does indicate that adult female business students are significantly more motivated than their traditional female counterparts (Sizoo, Bearson, & Malhotra, 1996).

Research shows that males demonstrate higher quantitative skills in the business classroom (Tyson, 1989). Further, Hite, et al (1987) report that both male and female adult learners have initially inferior math skills compared to traditional students. These weaker quantitative skills typically result in higher levels of student anxiety (Bogue, 1993). Motivation and anxiety are both issues that profoundly affect learning, but they can be addressed through improved learning and study strategies (Bogue, 1993). Sadler-Smith et al. (2000) found that males and females differ in terms of information processing--males process faster but at a more superficial level than females.

Learning strategies

Learning strategies are behaviors intended to influence how the learner processes information (Mayer, 1988). More specifically, they are "any behaviors or thoughts that facilitate encoding in such a way that knowledge integration and retrieval are enhanced" (Weinstein, 1988, p. …