"Distance relates only to Item 15. Clearly there is much more that can be involved in moving from fixed, or less-flexible, to more flexible learning".Collis and Moonen (2001) explained "it’s not just about distance". The dimensions of flexible learning are grouped in five: (1) flexibility related to time, (2) flexibility related to content, (3) flexibility related to entry requirements, (4) flexibility related to instructional approaches and resources and (5) flexibility related to delivery and logistics. In this post, I will discuss from every group one important factor to achieve flexible learning. After that, I will describe a technological solution that supports flexible learning.
(Collis & Moonen, 2001, p. 3)
Flexibility related to time
When flexibility is about time educational designers often mean times for starting and finishing a course, the submission of assignments, the tempo and pace of studying and the moments of assessment (Collis & Moonen, 2001). Time is also seen as moments the teacher and students have face-to-face interaction with each other. For students flexibility can be useful, because students can choose when to follow a lesson and when to submit an assignment. In that case, they can decide by themselves how many time they spend on the courses they follow. For example, if one course is very tough for a student, he or she wants to spend more time on working on that course. But when other courses have many deadlines, the student has to spend all the time on reaching those deadlines. In this example, tempo and pace is also addressed.
Flexibility related to time however has some gaps when implementing is. While the student is flexible it also requires a lot of independence and planning for he student. And the teacher needs more time to meet all student's needs. In courses it is often more time efficient to provide the course knowledge in face-to-face lessons.
Flexibility related to content
Flexibility related to content is quite logical as the title says. Students have the ability to decide what topics, parts of the course and key materials of the course they want to follow (Collis & Moonen, 2001). They can also decide to gain the knowledge presented in a more theoretical or practical way. According to assessment, the student can choose the assessment standards and completion requirements (Collis & Moonen). In some education, there is no need to learn everything from a course of study. A real-world example.
If a technical student follows a pre-master technical physics because he will study nanotechnology and the pre-master contains courses about thermal conductivity, there is no need to learn this because the student will not use this knowledge in the master he already decided to follow.So, when the content is flexible the student can choose what to learn according to his or her own interests and professional development. However, (also according to the assessment) there are also guidelines for assessing the student's gained knowledge. When students has too much flexibility in choosing the content, it is really difficult to assess all students equally. And also, just think about how to manage certifications for all students who followed the same study but learned other content.
According to the assessment, a real world example. In my bachelor with the course Statistics, we could choose to make short assessments every week to upgrade your final result of the exam. But you also had the possibility to make only the exam.
Flexibility related to entry requirements
This flexibility is about conditions for participation (Collis & Moonen, 2001). On course level, sometimes students need to achieve some courses before following another course (prerequisites). But also think about the entry qualifications students need to follow a whole study. If you did not finished school, but you have a lot of work experience and gained knowledge on the work floor, are you allowed to participate in a study?
Flexibility related to instructional approach and resources
This kind of flexibility is about pedagogy and resources (Collis & Moonen, 2001). There is flexibility in the social organization of learning (face-to-face, working in groups or just individual), the language used during the lessons, the learning resources and the instructional organization of learning (Collis & Moonen). In most times, the teacher decides the used language and learning resources. Learning resources can be books, websites, online documents but also magazines and newspapers. Teachers often use a combination of instructional approaches. For example, the teacher gives in a traditional way information about a subject, after that students work in groups on a assignment (problem-based learning) and discuss it later with the whole class. In this example the instructional approach is chosen by the instructor. It is also possible to let the students choose. For example at the beginning of a course if they like to work in groups or individual on assignments. The instructional approach meets also flexibility related to time a bit, because the instructional approach has influence on the times when students and teachers have interaction.
Flexibility related to delivery and logistics
Flexibility related to delivery and logistics is about place and procedures (Collis & Moonen, 2001). The flexibility in place is about the time and place where contact between teacher and students occurs, location and technology for participating and the delivery channel for course information. In this flexibility both teacher and students can choose where the contact will take place. Is it in a classroom or via skype or a video-conference? Maybe it is even possible in a cafe where the teacher will meet groups of students and discuss the progress of a assignment they work on.
The flexibility in procedures is about methods and technology for obtaining support and making contact, types of help, communication on available technology required (Collis & Moonen). this flexibility is about the communication and used technologies for interaction and support. Like we do in this course, we communicate via Facebook, Blogger and Blackboard. Every communication channel has its own advantages and disadvantages. For course information we use Blackboard, but for getting to know each other Facebook is a nice channel. Via Blogger, the teacher can follow what we learned. When multiple channels are used in a course, the student can choose which channel they prefer and want to use most frequent.
But... why flexible learning? Who wants it?
Like you can read, making education more flexible asks a lot of effort both from the teacher and students. The more choices the learner has, the more demands and challenges are there for the instructor (P. Fisser, personal communication, september 28, 2011). According to Collis and Moonen, "students will increasingly require educational programmes and a way of experiencing those programmes tailored to their own situations". (p. 9). But also teachers, they can choose from more approaches and materials. In short, both teachers and students want some form of flexibility but they have to put effort in it to make it happen. Flexibility fits within a lifelong learning (Collis & Moonen) where 'students' (working people) do not want to spend a whole day in the classroom.
Web based technology supporting flexible learning
According to flexible learning, I can describe a nice online environment that supports flexible learning. This environment is called 'Hair Level XL' and is made for the hairdressers who learn the field at school. In this environment, lessons were given with instructional videos. The learning environment is divided in 24 levels (compare with chapters) where specific topics are addressed. The student can follow the lessons at home, at school or even in the train (when there is an internet connection). In the lessons there also practice questions to test and evaluate the new gained knowledge. Both student and teacher can follow the development by viewing a overview with results.
- Collis, B., & Moonen, J. (2001, second printing 2002). Flexible learning in a digital world: Experiences and expectations. London: Kogan Page.
- Dorrian, J., & Wache, D. (2009). Introduction of an online approach to flexible learning for on-campus and distance education students: Lessons learned and ways forward. Nurse Education Today 29, pp 157–167.