Having It All: The Hybrid Solution for the Best of Both Worlds in Women's Postsecondary Education

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The intersection of learning and technology has complex implications for gender. The relationship between technology-driven learning modalities like online and hybrid courses in postsecondary education and academic performance is a topic of great study and also great speculation.

If, as many researchers and authors believe, women learn differently than men, then they excel in different learning environments from their male counterparts. Hybrid courses are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the perceived inherent strengths of the way women are thought to learn. But all hybrid courses are not created equal. Different types of hybrid structures need to be recognized, researched, and analyzed to determine implications for gender and recommendations for use in an effort to increase the achievement of women learners. Presented here are four models of hybrid course structures for investigation, adoption, and research.

WOMEN AS LEARNERS

Do women have unique characteristics as learners that might have repercussions for effective online and hybrid course models? Popular beliefs about women as learners include the theory that women have a predilection for subjective and affective learning methods. A second popular belief postulates that women learn in a relational manner, focused on drawing connections (Hayes, 2001, p. 38). This second theory would indicate that women might be predisposed to excel in online environments that espouse social constructivism, as many contemporary learning management systems do.

Indeed, recent research in brain functioning may support this theory, as findings of a 1999 study by Hales indicates that "more parts of women's brains are active in certain cognitive tasks than in men's brains." This evidence has been used to suggest that women's brains are therefore more connected (as cited in Hayes, 2001, p. 38). Though final conclusions regarding this supposition are not yet widely accepted, it does provide an interesting basis to support the theory that women are uniquely positioned to be effective online learners. This suggested aptitude necessitates a new look at the design of hybrid learning environments to maximize the achievement of women as adult learners.

WOMEN AND ONLINE LEARNING

Much has been made of the assumed disadvantage of women when it comes to technology-formatted education. This disadvantage was attributed partially to studies conducted in the late 1990s which subsequently spread to become the academic equivalent of an urban legend.

More recent studies indicate that this assumed disadvantage is virtually nonexistent. In a study on gender differences in performance in online environments conducted over the years of 2002-2004 with 1991 learners at the Open University in the United Kingdom, results indicated that "women's access to technology and enrolment in the online version of the course was comparable to men's" (Price, 2006, p. 353). Conversely, the study found that women were significantly more academically successful in the online version of the course than were their male counterparts, with a greater percentage of women than men completing the online course. Additionally, women were "twice as likely to pass the online version" (Price, 2006, p. 353). These dramatic findings - regardless of whether they can be attributed to women's presumed advantage for "connected" learning - inform and expand our understanding of the success of women in online educational environments.

This same study explored whether there were disparities in the access that women have to technology and the Internet. It found that women's and men's access was remarkably similar. The question then becomes, "Why do women achieve highly online?" This article explores hybrid models that may be even more effective in supporting women's achievement in a blended learning environment.

WOMEN IN HYBRID COURSES

Though there is a lack of conclusive evidence in research on women relating to hybrid courses, a recent study exploring gender, self-efficacy, and academic performance found that women in hybrid courses using online discussion modalities demonstrated higher self-efficacy than males, which correlated directly with academic performance (Lin & Overbaugh, 2008, p. …