Online Learning and the Gender Gap in STEM Courses


Friday, November 14, 2014 - 11:00am

If you’re a frequent visitor to Learning Outside the Lines you’re already familiar with the myriad benefits that online and blended learning bring with them. From enabling teachers to engage students through personalized learning to helping students catch up on credits and graduate on time, it’s no wonder that educators and administrators in school districts across the United States are embracing online learning. One area that has often been overlooked is the ways in which online learning can assist girls in pursuing advanced-level science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses.

From the White House down to the smallest school district, there is a movement to promote classes to enable students to be successful in STEM fields. There’s no doubt that being successful in STEM subjects as early as primary school, but definitely at the high school level, makes students more likely to gain access to college and be able to compete for higher paying jobs upon graduation. However, if girls aren’t participating in these courses by high school, they will be at significant disadvantage when it comes to college admissions and eventually in building their careers. 

While there’s been an awareness of the need to promote STEM courses in a way that appeals to girls for many years, awareness alone has made little impact in driving enrollment. What does seem to be making a difference in attracting girls to take STEM classes?  While some schools have gone so far as to create girls-only science classes in an attempt to gain greater participation.  What can your school do to improve participation for girls in these subject areas?

Anecdotal evidence from girls at the high school level suggests that the online environment may, indeed, boost confidence.  In a recent article on online education in The Los Angeles Times about the Online School for Girls – a non-profit consortium in the Los Angeles dedicated to educating girls –Erica Wu, a student who took computer science during her senior year, said that she “didn’t think it was essential to take the online classes with only girls; [but that] being behind a computer screen makes everyone more confident to share ideas regardless of gender.”

Given the abundance of data that shows that STEM classes at the high school level are critical to successful college enrollment and ultimately, the ability to pursue high paying and engaging careers, investment in online STEM courses for girls – and for all students – should be a priority for high school administrators.   




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