Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Week Five: Examples of Flexible Learning - part time, block, blended

My Impressions of the historical context for flexible learning

One thing that struck me when I was reading the Wikipedia article on Otago Polytechnic was the changes that have been made over the past 119 years. Though Otago Polytechnic wasn't officially known as that until 1964 the origins were there much earlier. Here is a good example that Flexible Learning has been around for a long time. Night classes covering 55 occupations shows the institution even then was trying to ensure it meet the needs of the students. However it didn't remain static, the needs of the students and the community change so therefore so must the delivery and methods used. During the early years the focus was getting people into secondary level education and studying part-time while completing apprenticeships. Finally in the 60's Otago Polytechnic was "born" when the tertiary arm of the college was developed. I think this shows evidence of how the Polytechnic has developed to meet the needs of the consumer. Today not only is there campuses in Dunedin but the Polytechnic has moved out into the regional areas, this certainly has been as a result of Flexibly delivery - why expect students to come to Dunedin, when the area they want to study is better taught in different locations?

How does Flexible Learning exist today and where does it heading for the future?

For part I think I have answered some of this question in the section above. Otago Polytechnic has campuses throughout the Otago Region, this ensures students get the best teaching and learning. By taking the subjects to the region the expertise is, ensures students get the level of knowledge they need. It is logical for the Qualifications in Ski and Snowboard instruction and Avalanche Safety be run in a ski/snow focused community.

As Ellis, Steed and Applebee (2006) identify the student learning experiences are improved when a combination of face to face and online technologies are used. In other words a blended learning appears to have the greatest results. It is interesting that in today's academic environment, when there appears to be a move away from face to face (because it is thought to be inflexible) the challenge will be how to ensure this component remains as research is showing its an important aspect to learning. I hear people out there saying what about using skype or even elluminate to put in the face to face component? I agree however we have to be mindful that not every person in Aotearoa/New Zealand has the ability of join up with broadband and the financial burden on alternatives will also eliminate others. So we go back to the age old question - IS EDUCATION ONLY FOR THE RICH?

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