Theories of Gendered Learning
Gendered learning in its basic form implies the learning methods regulated with a person’s gender. Being male or female determines the learning method, choice of subjects and career of an individual. Theories such as Social Learning Theory, Cognitive Development Theory, and Gender Schema Theory, apart from explaining how children acquire gender identities, explain how gendered learning takes place. The overarching idea here is the fact that male and female children and even adults, learn differently. It is apparent that boys and girls score differently in any exams. Therefore, the theorists, in their theories, try to explain this apparent difference in performance.
As cited earlier, Social Learning Theory by Albert Bandura in one of the theories instrumental in explaining the concept of gendered learning. Albert Bandura, the intellectual leader behind this theory, asserts that individuals learn through observational modeling (Rogers, 1995). According to Bandura, a child observes what another person does and produces something similar to what initially observed. In most cases, the copied behavior is not exactly the same, but can have slight variations. This theory also explains how gendered learning takes place. In this perspective, social learning takes place when for instance; a girl observes the learning habits of fellow girls and tries to mimic such observed habits. Again, what they observe in their surrounding environment determines the career choices and choices of subjects in schools and colleges by boys and girls. In this respect, boys tend to choose subjects and careers that they associate with most of grown up male adults. This also applies to girls who choose careers (and school subjects) pursued mostly by the females. It is imperative to note that social learning takes place non-verbally since it only includes observation.
Cognitive Development Theory, a learning theory formulated by Jean Piaget, state that all children go through the same pattern of learning (Carroll, 2009). This pattern comprises of four cardinal stages that each child must undergo during the process of growing up. The stages are; sensory- motor stage, pre-operational stage, concrete operational and formal operational stage. Piaget (1951), argues that children posses only a given amount of information at a given developmental stage (as quoted in Carroll, 2009). In essence, this theory explains the role that cognitive development plays in the determination of the ability of a child to learn. With time, the children begin to notice the physical differences between boys and girls, which then tend to limit the information that the child will acquire. This is so because; the child’s acquisition of information will depend on whether the child is male or female. Female children will only acquire information that is relevant to them as females and similarly, male children will tend to acquire information that is relevant to them as males. The children also pick on career subjects that they deem is for males or female, depending on their gender.
Social learning theory and Cognitive development theory could not explain some concept of leaning independently. In response, Sandra Bem (1981) formulated Gender Schema Theory to encompass the ideals of the two theories (as quoted in Carroll, 2009). According to Bem, children think in schemas that cognitively help them understand their gender. To encompass the two theories, Bem asserted that the schemas develop over time, just like in Cognitive development theory, and are subject to the influenced by the child’s social environment (Social Learning Theory). These schemas, which develop universally, organize a child’s thinking about gender according to the information presented to them by their parents and people around them (Carroll, 2009).
As stated earlier, Social Learning and Cognitive Development theories could not effectively explain the concept of gendered learning independently. With reference to Cognitive development theory, it did not consider the social influence on gendered learning (Carroll, 2009). Social learning theory, on the other hand, failed to incorporate the impact of biological differences in gendered learning (Carroll, 2009). Though undoubtedly convincing, the gender schema experienced criticism for not having enough research thereafter to prove its authenticity.
Despite the criticisms that Gender Schema theory received, I personally believe that it still takes the leading role in explaining the relationship between gender and learning. This is because the theory brings encompasses the social and cognitive influences as they affect learning in children.
Carroll, J. L. (2009). Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity. Belmont: Cancage Learning.
Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc.