project to review the potential impact of new learning technologies on women's
learning was developed in late 1995 by the Canadian Congress for Learning
Opportunities for Women and funded by the Office of Learning Technologies,
Human Resources Development Canada, in 1996. The project is named for the
ancient Roman deity Janus who was the guardian of gates and doors and who had
two faces, one looking forward and the other looking back.
The project consists of two parts: the development of a
discussion paper, and a conference to review issues related to new learning
technologies and women's learning. This discussion paper identifies issues
related to new technologies and women's learning and is designed to promote
discussion among those concerned with women's learning, including learners,
educators, program planners, facilitators and policy makers.
communications and information technologies are always potential new learning
technologies. If used appropriately, they offer the prospect of enhanced and
more accessible learning, education and training. These prospects are
particularly significant for women who rely on flexible arrangements, such as
part time studies, open and distance learning, and community based programs,
for both formal and non formal learning. But all technologies function within a
system of human organization. To realize the learning potential of new
communications and information technologies, the context, learning goals and
the human dynamic essential to teaching and learning must be taken into
consideration. This paper, then, considers these factors, particularly as they
relate to women's learning.
The study entailed an exploration of the literature on
technology and learning and discussions with those directly involved in women's
learning. We have broken the paper into the key issues that emerged, which are:
access, cost and use of resources, quality and equality of learning, and
opportunities made possible by new technologies. Since many also expressed the
need for concrete strategies to examine issues related to technology, we have
included a final section on questions that emerged and strategies that were
suggested for considering the impact of technology-related decisions.
Improved access to learning is an
often-repeated rationale for using new technologies. This section compares
existing provisions for providing access to learning in Canada, particularly
for women, with the potential of new technologies. Because of the high cost of
some of the newer technologies and of the infrastructures required to support
them, many will have more limited access to learning unless there are
interventions to ensure equity. Those most vulnerable to reduced access are
people in rural, remote and less populated regions, those with limited money to
invest in technology and those whose first language is not English. While these
are characteristics of whole populations, the impact on women is potentially
much greater because of women's greater reliance on part time, distance and
continuing education, where new technologies are being introduced at a
Exploring the issue of access entails comparing what is offered
by new technologies with what is already available, and watching out for
situations in which there is expanded access for some, and more restricted
access for others.
Specific questions about access to learning
for women include:
- What is good access to learning opportunities? How does that
compare with what is available in the community?
- How well are proposed community access learning centers
serving adult women learners, whether provided by local or provincial agencies
or through School Net or the Community Access Programs?
- Who has access to the Internet in my community? Are there
age and gender statistics?
- What training is available for users at the local community
learning or access centre? How accessible and friendly is it for women
- How does access to learning now available in my community
compare with what has been in place? Are technologies being used to replace
on-site classes, or are they providing learning opportunities that weren't
- What must be invested personally, in time and money, to
obtain access to learning that meets a learner's needs? Does this type of
learning require using new learning technologies? old learning technologies?
- What plans are in place to provide broadband telephone
access to my community? What will it cost the user when it is in place?