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This issue of CDTL Brief on Gender and Learning Styles discusses gender in the context of learning as well as the cultural and social issues surrounding it.

January 2004, Vol. 7, No. 1 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Are Learning Patterns Different on Mars and Venus?
Caroline Brassard
Assistant Professor
Public Policy Programme

“Have 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 so.

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

Table 1

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 respondents.`

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.

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Inside this issue
How Do Male and Female Students Approach Learning at NUS?
Learning Goals and Styles by Gender—A Study of NUS Students
A Study Investigating the Impact of Web-enhanced Learning on Student Motivation