Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What is Flexible Learning? Wk 2

After reading the Collis and Moonen (2001) article I was interested in the four key components required for flexible learning - Technology, Pedagogy, Implementation strategies and Institutional framework. I am most interested in the area of technology, especially at present. Collis and Moonen (2001) talk about technology as being a combination of information and communication technologies, these basically being computers and the software and systems used on them. I don't have a lot of experience with the range of technologies that are available though am always interested in learning.

Is Flexible learning a new concept or just a fancy new word for an old way of doing?

Well according to Collis and Moonen (2001), flexible learning isn't a new concept and is in fact a concept that has been around for many years. I have to admit I was (yes my opinion has now changed!) one to put my hand up in believing that flexible learning really just meant online or distance learning. As they put it, its about giving the learner choices, choices about locations, choices about times and choices about what types of resources they use. I have to admit I really hadn't thought of guest lectures and debates as examples of flexible learning before. Though I don't think the concept of Flexible Learning is necessarily new I do think many aspects of this concept continue to develop and are new. What was originally thought to be Flexible quickly becomes outdated and then there is scope to develop further. Especially in terms of technology. For example Correspondence Schools are definitely a example of flexible delivery. However the idea of sending out hard copies of work and returning assessments by post has given way to using the internet and email to access course work and return assessments.

What are you doing in your practice that you believe enables flexible learning?

Well up until today I was confident that I was involved in a range of activities that enabled flexible learning. (this is where I will have a moan about technology). I am very involved in the postgraduate courses at the School of Occupational Therapy. These courses are run 100% by distance. This allows for a wide range of therapists to enrol and complete postgrad courses from where they live. Now we have a number of therapists from not only around the country but also from around the world. Currently there are therapists from Malaysia, UK and Saudi Arabia. The courses are taught through a combination of teleconferences and blackboard discussions. Well low and behold there are huge issues with blackboard at present and a significant number of our students aren't able to access blackboard. Which means that a major component of the courses cant be access by a number of the students.

Now I know that flexible learning is not just online learning but using the online technology was chosen so we could engage students we wouldn't of otherwise. I like how in the "Australian Flexible Learning Framework" site they state that flexible learning isn't a goal in itself rather improving the learning experience and the learning outcomes are. Currently I don't believe the learning experience is particularly successful for a number of students experiencing the difficulties.

Phew! Its a big topic and there seems to be a lot to think about. I will continue to attempt to think about it.

Collis, B., Monnen, J. (2001). Flexible Learning in a Digital World: Open and Distance
Learning Series. London: Degan page Ltd.


Leigh Blackall said...

Very promising post OTPenK. I go "yay" when I see posts talking about flexible learning as being more than just online, and double yay when they start to see many aspects on online being quite inflexible.. such as your access issues with Bb at the moment. Looking forward to more thoughts from you. Any off the wall ideas on how what you are doing now with those international participants could be made more flexible without compromising the quality etc?

Bronwyn hegarty said...
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Bronwyn hegarty said...

Great post Pen! I also agree with leigh it is really good to see when someone "gets it" about the differences between FL and online etc.

One of the reasons that traditional ways of teaching in the face-to-face classroom and correspondence are changing to incorporate technology is to aid communication and to increase efficiency. There is also business speake "cost-effectiveness".

You say "sending out hard copies of work and returning assessments by post has given way to using the internet and email to access course work and return assessments."

Have we done the students a favour by transferring printing costs to them in the content-heavy models which some online course use? would we be better to provide lots of options for people to explore rather than a set textbook - online or not? Is it fair to distribute a huge amount of lecture material in pdf form on a CDROM?

Is learning mainly about content or about exploration and building knowledge, synthesizing it and applying it? My feeling is that people do the latter more effectively if they have communication with others - based on Vygotsky's social learning theory. What do you think?

Access to a Learning management system such as Blackboard is problematic for people who are not formally enrolled in a course. Hence if people from around the world are participating, they are inhibited not only by access which must be granted by administrators but also by having to pay international fees.

Of course by putting any type of material online we are limiting a large number of people - but should we have to worry about making sure everyone has access esp when numbers who can access online courses are satisfactory anyway? If we get too many participants wont teacher workloads get too big?

A dilemma and not one solved overnight - see how important it is to know and understand the student group we are working with.