Jump to content
The Education Forum
  • Announcements

    • Evan Burton

      OPEN REGISTRATION BY EMAIL ONLY !!! PLEASE CLICK ON THIS TITLE FOR INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR REGISTRATION!:   06/03/2017

      We have 5 requirements for registration: 1.Sign up with your real name. (This will be your Username) 2.A valid email address 3.Your agreement to the Terms of Use, seen here: http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=21403. 4. Your photo for use as an avatar  5.. A brief biography. We will post these for you, and send you your password. We cannot approve membership until we receive these. If you are interested, please send an email to: edforumbusiness@outlook.com We look forward to having you as a part of the Forum! Sincerely, The Education Forum Team
Sign in to follow this  
David Richardson

Welcome to the Flexible Learning Forum

Recommended Posts

I asked John to create a new forum about flexible learning to see if we could firstly start debating some of the issues involved, and secondly spread information about how flexible learning works.

'Flexible learning' is a very trendy phrase, especially in the mouths of educational administrators. For people financing education systems, the lure is to be able to reach out to new 'clients' without significantly increasing the outlay on education, since the idea is to use facilities and teachers more efficiently. In other words, if you can 'deliver' education in alternative ways to the incredibly costly 'bums-on-seats' approach, you can, perhaps, get more teaching done by existing teachers, and use fixed assets like buildings and computer systems for more hours of the day.

What does it mean for teachers, students and pupils, though?

One of the problems is that this whole area has been bedevilled with fairly sterile discussions about the very name of the activity. Are we talking about distance learning … or open learning … or open/distance learning … or distributed learning … or blended learning … or e-learning … or connected learning … or flexible learning, to mention just some of the terms which have been used?

My own definition, which might as well be called flexible learning, is a way of creating learning environments in such a way that the learner can learn at a time and in a way which suits her best.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) often makes its appearance here … but it isn't an essential element. Distance also plays a part … although it might very well be the learners who are 'local' and the teachers who are all over the globe.

What I hope will happen in this forum is that people will start by describing their own experiences of either running or participating in flexible learning … and that we can also discuss the hows, whys and wherefores of the whole phenomenon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This sort of discussion shares a great deal of common ground with the UK DFES push for "personalised learning"

The propaganda can be read by clicking here!

My particular interest is in how ICT can be used to make learning accessible outside "normal hours".

I have some experience of creating online courses for A Level which have been taken up and used by students all over the country. Interestingly the "flexible users" are students I don't teach during the day - my own students still rely on me in the classroom where I guess the context is a little richer!

Under the new workforce restructuring in my College I have been given responsibility for "personalised learning" across the College. I will therefore be watching this thread with particualr interest

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The very term 'Personalised learning' illustrates both the attraction and the danger of the whole idea of flexible learning. The Swedish equivalent is 'putting the student in the centre' … which sounds very nice, until you realise that it could be interpreted as meaning "I've done the teaching, and made all the material available, so if you're still failing, it must be your fault" … which isn't so nice.

The first Director-General of Sweden's Net University liked to ask the rhetorical question "who doesn't want to be flexible?", to which my answer is "every school and university in the world". Head teachers and university principals want to be able to show off their wonderful campus, filled with happy, well-dressed and clean students and pupils - who're all doing what the teaching staff have arranged for them. Flexible learning, on the other hand, often involves people who aren't immediately visible (serving prisoners are an important minority within my students at the moment, for example), who work in constellations which are often outside the teacher's immediate control … if the teacher has set up the course properly.

However, there are good bits about flexible learning too … about which I'll come to in my next post.

My particular interest is in how ICT can be used to make learning accessible outside "normal hours".

I have some experience of creating online courses for A Level which have been taken up and used by students all over the country. Interestingly the "flexible users" are students I don't teach during the day - my own students still rely on me in the classroom where I guess the context is a little richer!

Under the new workforce restructuring in my College I have been given responsibility for "personalised learning" across the College. I will therefore be watching this thread with particualr interest

My own feeling is that there isn't a 'science of flexible learning' (yet?), so the best way to get ideas about how to enhance courses is to look at what different people have done and then use the bits that fit your situation best … it's what I've done anyway.

There's another thread in this sub-forum where I hope people will do that …

One of the developments I've found really interesting is how you can get campus students to work with non-campus students, without either group really being aware of the difference (I'll post something on the other thread about the latest developments in our Kalmar-Central Missouri State University partnership programme sometime this week).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was up in Hultsfred on Saturday, and the people in the Study Centre proudly showed me the Marratech set-up at their end which Nancy has been using to teach people maths from her sick bed (see the other thread).

It revealed another aspect of flexible learning - the one that appeals to politicians! Buying the equipment for even a small-scale studio video conference studio costs around 100,000 Swedish kronor. The equipment for a studio which will hold 30-50 people costs around 500,000 - 1 million kronor.

Then, when you get going you have to have something called a bridge which links up several studios at a time, if you're going to do a multi-party video conference (point-to-point, the other alternative, is sometimes useful, but it's a bit of waste of resources to do the point-to-point conference several times over, rather than just linking the different sites up in the first place). The bridge server starts at around 500,000 Swedish kronor, and if you rent space on someone else's bridge, it costs 200 kronor per hour per site.

The study centre in Hultsfred spent around 8,000 Swedish kronor on a fancy web cam and a couple of echo-cancelling mikes. They already had the projector to project the picture from Nancy up on to a screen, but the price of these is down around 15,000 - 20,000 Swedish kronor now … and, of course, you can use a projector for lots of other things than video conferences. Our Marratech licence (which is what allows multi-party conferences to take place) costs around 10,000 kronor per year per room, and we, of course, use each room for lots of things other than teaching.

As you can see, the financial cost of using Marratech is very small, compared with the alternative. The spin-off for me as a teacher, though, is that Marratech is incredibly flexible - if I want to take in a student in Hong Kong, there's nothing to stop me, and the added costs are negligible.

Thus, what's in the interests of the bureaucrats just happens also to be in my interest, for once!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We're now into our second round of 'one-code application' courses. Previously on our English distance courses (with the exception of the entirely on-line Business Writing course) we decided which study centres to use in advance and students applied to one of them. It was a nice idea in theory, but it didn't work in practice because students just ignored the fact that they didn't actually live anywhere near the centre they applied for. Lots of them just applied for all of the centres too. The result was a great deal of wasted effort around course start time as you fixed studio time for students who had no possibility of actually travelling to that studio. (You need to bear in mind that Sweden's a very big country, and the distances we're talking about are like London to Leeds.)

With one-code application we just accepted the fact that people will apply from wherever they happen to live. We fix studios when we know where the students are, and anyone who can't be part of a small group is invited to join the video conferences via Marratech.

There've been some very interesting developments. One of them is that lots of expatriate Swedes are getting on the course. I'm busy organising day-time conferences now because we have Europe-based expatriates who can study whilst their kids are at nursery school linking up with Australia-based ones for whom the European morning is their evening!

All these little details point to what happens when you start organising your courses flexibly. We've taken away many of the artificial barriers to learning - such as the requirement to be in a particular place at a particular time. This puts the pedagogical design of the course into sharp focus. The teaching materials - and the interaction they create among the students - become extremely important … and it's very difficult to image how traditional 'one-size-fits-all' materials could work on this kind of a course.

You could, of course, take away the interaction … but then the courses tend not to work, since it's the interaction which keeps students going.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×