Effective learning in science, balancing masculine and feminine learning strategies.

In progress.


While female students are overrepresented in higher education, often related to their higher quality and quantity of work, they are still in the minority in the physical sciences and engineering. In this study, the relation between work characteristics and achievement in female as compared to male students was investigated, using data from two linked surveys conducted in the population of Dutch undergraduate students of the highest (academic) level. The first survey measured the science capability related to their recent achievements in high school; the second survey measured their perceived learning characteristics and their academic success in their first year of study. Academic success was corrected in order to level out the differences in difficulty of the 85 disciplines of education involved. Two comparable models (male and female) on this corrected parameter were derived with structural equation modeling. The male students reported lower quantity and quality of work while they achieved at a higher level. This was related to a higher male science capability, a stronger influence of this capability on academic success, a stronger influence of their quantity of work on academic success, and a higher effectiveness of the way these male students worked in order to learn. In the discussion these differences were associated with a gender difference in preference for certain activities and subjects, a gender difference in (learning) experiences, and a gender difference in dealing with risks of failure as reported in the literature. Both female and male students could benefit from a more balanced way of learning, avoiding the male characteristic of working so little that they risk failure and the female characteristics of choosing the less difficult tasks (avoiding challenge) and to work more than necessary in order to be sure of success.

At the Gender and STEM conference in September 2012 in Haarlem, organized by the VHTO, I have presented some of the conclusions concerning learning from mistakes in order to optimize the female learning strategy in science. This power point presentation is a preview on my results of the research on academic success of Dutch students in the freshman year of a academic science related fields of study. (click here).