In 2004 the Australian Flexible Learning Community began a public online group, "Getting Started in Flexible Learning" which was moderated by Judy Fawcett and targeted especially for practitioners who were new to flexible learning and wished to engage in a process of guided discovery. This article is drawn from the discussions that took place in the group between February and November. Many thanks to all who participated.
What is flexible learning?
This is such a difficult question to answer and an on-going debate continues today, but here are some different perspectives to help in this discussion.
From the perspective of the Australian Flexible Learning Framework, flexibility means anticipating, and responding to the ever-changing needs and expectations of VET clients – enterprises, learners and communities. The Framework views flexible learning as an approach rather than a system or technique:
- it is based on the skill needs and delivery requirements of clients, not the interests of trainers or providers
- it gives clients as much control as possible over what, when, where and how they learn
- it makes use of the delivery methods most useful for the clients - especially e-learning
It supports different styles of learning, including e-learning but is not confined to only e-learning.
What does it look like?
Flexible Learning has ten characteristics, all of which are required if flexibility is to be achieved. These include:
- Emphasis on meeting client needs, recognising that each learner and enterprise has unique, complex skill needs, giving learners and enterprises greater influence over what is taught, where, when and how.
- Convergence of technologies, their impact on the workforce and the advent of a Knowledge Society.
- Greater choice for learners and enterprises in the what of training: including curriculum content, length and make-up of qualifications.
- Greater flexibility for learners and enterprises in the where and when of training: mixing and matching on-campus teaching and remote delivery (workplace and home), and offering more flexible forms of access, entry and exit.
- Greater variety for learners and enterprises in the how of training: especially through the use of self-instructional learning resources and online technologies
- Shifts in the nature of teachers' work and the processes and technologies they use, including the encouragement and support of learner-centred approaches.
- More flexible organisational systems and structures to support the above - including integrated student management and learning systems, appropriate funding models, and changes in the organisation of work.
- Policies and processes which integrate each of the above elements
- Use of appropriate technologies to support each characteristic
- Collaboration and strategic alliances that encourage shared experience while strengthening competitive positioning
Adapted from: Evaluation of the Australian Flexible Learning Framework 2000-2001
(in: 'Measures of Success for the Australian Flexible Learning Framework')
What skills do I need to deliver flexibly?
A good vocational education and training (VET) practitioner is able to apply a theoretical understanding of what underpins learning to their practice. Flexible learning in vocational education and training is built on an understanding of:
- adult learning principles
- the Australian VET context
- a range of learning philosophies and approaches including learner-centred approaches and work-based learning models
- current flexible learning philosophies, principles and procedures, including online learning and more conventional approaches
- a range of teacher roles and student roles that complement flexible learning
- a range of different learning strategies
- different learning styles
- a range of strategies to engage and motivate learners in a flexible learning context
- a range of assessment strategies
- the range of learning technologies available and their potential to enhance student learning
- the role and impact of technology on the workforce and society
- social and ethical considerations associated with responsible use of learning technologies
- appropriate learning technologies for different courses and student needs.
From: Welcome to Flexways: A Professional Development Guide
What is flexible learning?