G. Palmer, L. Bowman, P. Harroff

DeVry University (UNITED STATES)
The demand for online education has grown exponentially over the course the last decade. This exponential growth in online adult education could be attributed to a combination of a number of variables which include: the ubiquity of computers; the pervasiveness of the internet and internet technologies; the need for personal and professional development; globalization and the global competition for jobs; cheap labor; and a host of other factors. Knowles (1984) asserted that the adult learner is intrinsically motivated to learn and that the desire to learn is precipitated by factors that are important and fundamental to the individual. Knowles also argued that when learning is imposed on the adult, there is a great degree of resistance. Knowles (1980) contends that by allowing the learners to pursue their own interests, learning becomes more meaningful.

Much of online adult education is self-directed. Self-direction is major facet of adult learning. This characteristic of adult education is important in the acquisition of knowledge and in the place and format where this learning is sought. Online learning affords the adult learner the time and convenience to acquire desired learning.

As the number of adults participating in online learning continues to grow, it is important that adult educators, curriculum designers and the administrators of those programs understand the nature and characteristics of the adult learners filling those programs. It is important to understand social and cultural forces that may impact the quality and effectiveness of online learning experiences for adults. Just as there are concerns about the efficacy of learning within traditional classrooms, there needs to be equal concerns about the effectiveness of learning in the online environment. Therefore an important question that should be addressed is: What is the significance of race, ethnicity and gender in the online learning environment?

For this study we conducted an in-depth review of the literature on the impact of race, ethnicity, and gender in the adult online learning environment. Searches were conducted for all research articles published between 1990 and the present. Many observers have noted that it was during the 1990’s the online educational programs for adults began to be offered in large numbers by accredited institutions (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2011).

Our most unexpected finding from our literature review was that gender is a significant factor in the online learning environment. Gender received significantly more attention by researchers than did race or ethnicity. We argue that if gender is significant than surely so too must be race and ethnicity. We posit that both are socially constructed realities and should therefore manifest themselves to some extent even in an online learning environment given the social nature of learning.

Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modem practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy.
Chicago: AP/Follett.
Knowles, M. S. (1984). Andragogy in action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 21, 2011). Online Programs Face New Demands
From accreditors. Available at