you ever wondered if different genders learned differently?”
This was the third question on the mini-questionnaire I posed
to my colleagues and students at the Public Policy Programme
for the purpose of this article. Admittedly, I had never really
wondered about the question myself. However, as a lecturer specialising
in empirical analysis for public policy, the temptation to create
a mini-database on gender and learning differences was irresistible. To my surprise, two thirds of the 28
respondents1 had thought
about this question before and many other remarkable findings
came out of the seven-question survey.
In the questionnaire, some examples of learning styles (each
briefly explained) provided were: reflective-, non-reflective-,
experimental-, experiential-, deep-, surface-, independent-
and peer-learning. The question on whether the two genders
learned differently led to statistically speaking, the
most significant finding2:
60% of female respondents believed that the two genders have
different learning patterns whilst only 43% of the males thought
In order to understand the divergences of opinions, the descriptive
statistics emerging from the survey were summarised in Table
1 below. The table also represents the proportion of respondents
who believed that the given factors were important to student
learning and/or may differ between genders. The bold figures
represent the most striking findings and that will be discussed
in the following paragraphs.
Many deviations of opinions transpired from this survey.
Although 86% of those surveyed considered the motivation of
student for studying as the most important factor that influenced
student learning, only 24% of the respondents believed that
the factor would differ according to genders. However, the least important
factor that affects student learning, the extent
of social network of students (21%), was generally believed
to be different between genders (62%).
In addition, when the data was disaggregated by gender, male
and female respondents appeared to disagree on many issues.
One significant finding was that more women than men (58%
vs. 29%) regarded the level of self-confidence as an important
factor in influencing student learning. Overall, this factor
was still not considered as differing between genders (21%).
So the question remained: what do the respondents believe
is the most important factor for student learning and differs
between gender? An open-ended question included in the questionnaire
led to the identification of several other factors including
the cultural background of students, social expectations and
obligations and the conception of success. In addition, it
was interesting that only female respondents mentioned age
as an important factor.
From the descriptive statistics of the survey, two factors
appeared to be influential. These relate to the interaction between students and interaction with teacher.
Interestingly, interaction with teachers was deemed more important
for male than female respondents (76% vs. 58%). This seems
to contradict the earlier finding that majority of male respondents
believed that the two genders have similar learning patterns!
If there were indeed contradictory beliefs among males on
the issue of different learning styles between genders, I
would like to suggest that it might be appropriate to undertake
further research focusing solely on the lecturer’s beliefs*.
To conclude, since the majority of respondents consider the
interaction with teachers as a key issue that influences learning
and varies between genders, a clearer picture would emerge
either by increasing the sample size of the survey, or constructing
another survey questionnaire focusing on the dynamics influencing
these interactions. In fact, a bestseller
by John Gray, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus:
A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting
What You Want in Your Relationships3,
claimed to reveal in detail the dynamics involved in the interaction
between genders. As a down-to-earth person, I never read the
book. However, in my attempt to understand the long-ranging
results of this short survey, I may well have an academic
purpose for reading Dr Gray’s work.
1 The sample was self-selecting
and the response rate was about 50%, with 12 male and 16 female
2 Based on a t-test of
independent samples, the p-value was 0.025.
3 Gray, John (1992). Men
Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for
Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your
Relationships. New York: HarperCollins.
* Anyone interested in pursuing a similar type of research is
welcome to contact me (
for the questionnaire or the data file.