Women and men have different learning styles which affect their participation in DE. Plummer (2000) has stated that research has confirmed feminist theories of differential learning styles in men and women. The socio-economic characteristics of women influences their learning styles to a very large extend. The influence is so strong to the extent that some scholars attribute the under-representation of women in some courses to their different learning styles. Adults have complex lives with multiple demands on their time and energy, they appreciate flexibility and individualization in their learning experiences.
Institutional set ups have the potential of helping or hindering the chances of women to combine distance course with their family responsibilities and thereby contribute to more equal opportunities. It is assumed that distance learners are autonomous and independent learners who more or less study on their own and work their way through the course materials provided by the institution. The situation differs for female students. Female distance students have shown more interest in support and connectedness with other students and in dealings between students and academic staff. Unlike their male colleagues, they are oriented towards creating opportunities for meeting and working with other students. The study of Plummer has found women make different demands on the institution than do male students, and they value and utilize the services in a different way. Women also place a higher value on the local support services as a result they have a higher rate of attendance in study centres, even though they have to overcome more obstacles in order to be able to participate. This female oriented approach to learning at a distance need to be taken into account by a DE system which actively wants to provide equal opportunities for men and women.
Meanwhile because of excessive demands of their reproductive and domestic roles, women distance learners face challenges even in their quest for and use of existing student support systems. They find it very challenging to make time to attend tutorials or participate in study groups they desire so much, which take place outside their homes or communities. The everyday lives of family women are characterised by a degree of chaos and constant interruptions, where the mother is at the beck and call of her children and her partner and their immediate needs which tend to take precedence over the woman’s desire for uninterrupted and concentrated study time. Meanwhile it is assumed that most women in unpaid family work are supposed to have time on their hands and to be quite free in how they organise their schedules. Studies have shown that only a minority of women distance students do not work outside the home at all. Most of them are in fulltime or part-time work in addition to fulfilling their commitments as housewives and mothers. They therefore face difficulty in organizing their studies. While female students have difficulties in making time and finding space for their studies, with the support of their spouses men are more likely to be granted the space and privacy needed to pursue their distance courses. In discussing women’s experiences of DE, a study by Burge (1990:18) note that the women agreed that distance study “isn’t for everyone” and that it is a significantly different experience for female learners than it is for male learners”. The women under study were grateful that communications technologies, despite their imperfections, allowed them to study from their own homes and at times most convenient to their personal schedules.