Differences Between Men's and Women's Learning Styles



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Differences Between Men's and Women's Learning Styles


Not only do adults have different learning styles than children, but men and women do not approach the world of "thinking" in quite the same way either! In 1968, William Perry did a study of undergraduate New England college students (male). From this study he determined that young men pass through a developmental sequence in their thinking modes. Perry isolated nine stages in the sequence, but in outline the stages form this pattern (Bodi 1988; Cranton 1992, 47; McNeer 1991):

Perry's "Developmental Process"


  1. male students see the world as black/white, right/wrong--they are convinced there IS one right answer

  2. male students see there is diversity of opinion, but feel that authorities that describe diversity are poorly qualified, or just "exercising students" so students will be forced to find the "right answer" themselves

  3. male students begin to feel that diversity is temporary. They feel that maybe the "right" answer just hasn't been found yet

  4. male students understand that diversity is a legitimate state, but they would still prefer to know what is "right"

  5. male students see that everyone has a right to his or her own opinion

  6. finally the male student develops a personal commitment to the relativistic world...

Nearly 20 years later, Belenky et al. wondered how women fit into this "male" scale (if at all). In their 1986 study they discovered that women indeed do have different "ways of knowing." Unlike Perry developmental stages, Belenky et al. chose not to describe the way women think in a staged sequence, although women do move from one style of thinking to others as they mature and gain life experience. In outline, Belenky et al. found that women have the following possible "ways of knowing."

Belenky et al. "Women's Ways of Knowing"


  • silence: women students feel mindless and voiceless, subject to whims of external authority

  • received knowledge: women students feel they can receive knowledge, but not create it

  • subjective knowledge: truth and knowledge are private and subjectively known or intuited

  • procedural knowledge: women students are invested in learning and applying objective procedures for obtaining and communicating knowledge

  • constructed knowledge: women students view knowledge as contextual and can create knowledge found objectively or subjectively

With those two "thinking structures" in the background, let's turn to some specific theories on learning styles that have come out of writings in education and psychology.


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