Online Learning Presents More Opportunities for Women Than Ever

By: Aylin Dunham
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Many women were forced to leave the workforce due to pandemic challenges. However, the crisis did present an incredible opportunity for women to gain an education and develop skills through online learning. In 2021 alone, women made up 52% of online learners, and they continue to hold the lead in the total number of college enrollment rates over men.

In support of women learners, AST recently participated in the International Forum for Women in eLearning (IFWE). AST’s Senior Customer Success Manager Leslie Sands delivered a presentation at the forum on ensuring that these women are offered equitable opportunities as they learn online, sharing valuable information about accessibility tools like accurate closed captioning and transcription.

“With women emerging as one of the largest populations of online learners, it’s essential for educators to ensure they’re providing learning experiences and tools that are both inclusive and equitable,” said Sands. “Educators and employers should invest in understanding their learning needs, including for those who are 1st generation learners, parents and women with disabilities, to provide them with the flexibility, tools and independence they need to succeed.”

With women representing a key market in online learning, university and eLearning professionals can better attract and retain these women by enlisting more inclusive approaches and accessibility measures to help them succeed.

Image of two women conversing while sitting at a desk with a laptop.

IFWE Offered Tangible Advice to Empower eLearners

IFWE’s sessions focused on empowering and supporting mothers and women with disabilities with effective leadership strategies, best practices and tips for maintaining a work-life balance.

AST’s workshop offered participants ideas on how to leverage accessible tools like captions, transcripts and accessible video players in online learning to better include women learners, including those with disabilities.

“In higher ed, we’ve seen that many educators aren’t acknowledging all of the disparities in online learning correctly,” said Sands. “There needs to be a greater emphasis on meeting the needs of all types of women: women who are mothers, women with learning disabilities and women who are first generation students.” Fortunately, there are many ways for educators to design successful and inclusive learning spaces for all of the types of women who learn online.

Image of a woman sitting at a table with her laptop and an iced coffee.

How To Help All Women Learners Succeed

For some women, finding a balance between their personal and professional lives is challenging. Educators who incorporate technologies and interactive learning methods can help make a difference in their ability to succeed, with tactics that offer more inclusive and engaging environments for women of all backgrounds who are learning while handling a variety of life circumstances.

Here are some key factors making a difference for women learning online:

  • Learning Flexibility is Essential for Mothers: Around 25% of women spend 11-25 hours per week on family care compared to 12% of men. To help address this reality, educators can offer more flexibility and convenience in online learning. Options such as longer submission timelines, extra time to complete tests and opportunities to revise wrong answers can be useful for helping busy mothers keep up with their peers.
  • 1st Generation Women Benefit from Tailored Resources: Findings demonstrate that women who are 1st generation students benefit from targeted resources when learning. With this in mind, educators can offer resources like assignments that promote interactions with peers, opportunities to network with other women leaders and formal mentorship, which is shown to increase diversity for women in management by up to 24%.
  • Technologies Ensure Accessibility for Women With Disabilities: Women make up 44% of students receiving services for learning disabilities under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). To better help women with disabilities, educators can make use of accessibility tools like live captioning and offer word-for-word transcripts from live courses and share them with students who struggle with note taking. These tools can also prove helpful for women without reported disabilities who may be participating in classes silently due to their children or who miss a lecture due to other obligations and can greatly benefit from notes to reference.

When designing learning spaces, keeping in mind that women learners may be learning with a variety of distractions in today’s climates or may be struggling more when remote than in-person is critical. Offering them the right tools and experiences to overcome these challenges will help to retain them and drive their academic success.

Woman sitting at a desk and looking down at her laptop screen.

Crafting Inclusive Spaces for Women

To truly fuel women’s success both academically and in the corporate world, businesses and institutional leaders should look to offer learning that is flexible, engaging and takes into account accessibility needs to ensure all learners are included.

For more ideas on how to craft more inclusive and equitable online learning spaces to help women learners and eLearners overall, reach out to us.