Monday, March 5, 2007

Dimensions of learning flexibility

I've been working my way through the first chapter of

Collis B, Moonen J (2001). Flexible Learning in a digital world: Experiences and Expectations. Routledge, UK.
(For an online copy go to and search using the title.)

I must admit the book covers a wider take on flexible delivery than I had previously considered.

Flexibility is firstly considered from the perspective of the learner in terms of 19 dimensions which exist within 5 main categories. Flexibility in this context means giving the learner options. The main concern I have with creating this type of flexibility is that giving the learner options often leads to an increased load on the teacher.

Category: Time
1. Start & Finish times
2. Times of assignment submission & course-related interactions
3. Tempo/pace of studying
4. Moments of assessment

In essence we will be providing another option for our students in this part-time/distance programme. This will lead to some flexibility in terms of start & finish times and tempo/pace of studying. Within these courses I am reticent to provide too much flexibility with respect to timing of assessment, as I could see this leading to fragmentation of teacher workload.

Category: Content
5. Topics of the course
6. Sequencing of different parts of the course
7. Orientation of the course (e.g. theoretical/practical)
8. Key learning materials of the course
9. Assessment standards and completion requirements

It's not really possible for us to be particularly flexible in this area, as most of our course material is predefined by the entry requirements of Massage New Zealand, the professional association for massage in New Zealand.

Category: Entry Requirements
10. Conditions for participation

Category: Instructional approach & Resources
11. Social organisation of learning (face-to-face; group; individual)
12. Language used during the course
13. Learning resources
14. Instructional organisation of learning

Again, I'm not particularly interested in building this type of flexibility into our programme. As I see it, providing the learner with more learning options is likely to require more time input from the lecturers (e.g. developing different learning resources for different learning styles - visual, audial, kinesthetic, reader-writer).

Category: Delivery & Logistics
15. Time & place where contact with instructor & other students occur
16. Methods, technology for obtaining support and making contact
17. Types of help: communication available, technology required
18. Location, technology for participating in various aspects of the course
19. Delivery channels for course information, content, communication

We are looking at providing some flexibility in this area, as students will be able to choose between the full-time class-room type course, or the part-time/distance online & block course. We are however not likely to provide much more flexibility than this for learners at least initially. I imagine we will have our hands full just converting the course to something that works in the on-line environment.

In reflecting over the many ways in which it is possible to provide learner-centred flexibility, it seems clear to me that there is a definate limit to how flexible an educational provider can be. Our planned course of action certainly has a very limited degree of learner-centred flexibility. I believe this is the way it needs to be for the reasons outlined - some regulatory, some based on the level of resourcing that is available.

1 comment:

bronwyn said...

Hello Dave
you have thought through a lot of the issues very carefully in relation to your teaching situation.

Even where there is a prescribed curriculum, there is generally room for innovation. content and learning materials and resources are as you say not the only areas where flexibility can be introduced.

Time for lecturers to find and develop new resources is always a big problem.

However there are solutions - often an innovation or new resource is introduced to assist students with a concept or concepts which students are having difficulty with and which causes them to struggle.

And of course there is the flexibility project funding which you can apply for with design and production assistance from EDC....more to come. Bronwyn