Flexible learning - Getting ready

Flexible learning - Getting ready
Presented by James Neill at the University of Canberra, 11:40-12:00, Friday September 11, 2009, at an on-line and blended delivery seminar: Taking the Faculty of Health forward in Steps 17 & 18 of the strategic plan
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This 20 minute presentation aims to sow some seeds about how we might make (so-called) "best use" of educational technologies, and in particular it discusses how educational technologies can be used to promote flexible learning (which largely encompasses blended and online learning, work-based learning etc.).

University of Canberra's (UC's) online and blended learning review (August, 2008) (despite its name) is really about flexible learning. For example, flexible learning is the vocational sector's overarching nomenclature (see the Australian Flexible Learning Framework). Flexible learning encompasses but is not limited to online, blended, and work-based learning.

The key ideas I discussed were:

Walk a mile in students' shoes.
  1. Flexible learning: What is it?
  2. Modularisation of content
    1. Break down tasks and time - be clear, transparent, and detailed
    2. Hierarchically chunk & organise content - chunk learning content into portable, bite-sized pieces and organise multiple pathways to this content such as via zoomable, drillable maps, indexes, tables of content etc. of content (multiple pathways)
  3. Digitisation of content
    1. Maximise electronic text content - it is very flexbile e.g., .txt., .doc., .ppt, .html, wiki
    2. Use of open educational resources
    3. Digitise info content, curricular descriptions of learning activities, assessment and skill development training notes
    4. Develop visualisations, simulations etc. of concepts
    5. Record and archive as much of your materials, audio, and video as possible
  4. Userification/Userify - continually adapting materials to suit learners
    1. The customer is always right. Take students' experiences seriously. Improve/modify accordingly.
    2. "Disrepecting students" is the #1 worst teaching mistake http://www.oncourseworkshop.com/Getting%200n%20Course023.htm
    3. Walk a mile in students' shoes
    4. Get peer review
"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run."
- Amara's Law

To explore further, see the

flexible learning presentation (prezi.com).

The rest of what follows are some additional notes/ideas in development.

Get going with flexible learning


Embrace and develop your pedagogical practices to incorporate flexible learning. This will improve your teaching practice, educational materials, and students' experiences. Ways you get ready for flexible learning include:

  1. Develop and adapt your philosophy of education to incorporate flexible learning strategies
  2. Within the constraints of learning objectives and resources, maximise student choice and options
  3. Modularise your content
  4. Build on open educational resources
  5. Use open source software where possible
  6. Communicate with students early and often
  7. Continually improve all aspects of assessment - assessment is where the rubber hit the road for student satisfaction - transparent and clearly communicated marking criteria, with developmental feedback along the way, leading to objective marking are vital.
  8. Gather continuous feedback and act continuously - don't wait

Blended learning

  1. The units of study I teach are officially "face to face", however I seek to deliver them as "blended learning" (by personal choice), i.e., the units use a combination of face-to-face teaching and online learning, which has the potential to offer the benefits of both f2f and online educational approaches.
  2. However, a more fundamental principle for me is flexible learning which, for me, is about providing multiple pathways (e.g., f2f and online) for learners to meet the learning objectives. For online learning, I have evolved from using my own website domain, to institutional-hosted platforms (such as WebCT and Moodle), and to externally hosted Web 2.0 sites such as Wikimedia and Google to host online material.
  3. In order to provide authentically flexible learning, maximum freedom must be afforded to the learner. To this end, "free pedagogical" (and androgogical) philosophy - or open academia - is fundamental. In practical terms, maximise the "freeness" of all content, processes, and outputs (teaching, research, and service).
  4. "Blended learning" and "openness" make a very tasty and exciting menu for teachers and learners.
  5. Adventurous teachers and learners can co-thrive at the bleeding edge of communication technologies, inspire others along the way, and share the frisson of learning with the wider world.
  6. For many tertiary educators, the notion of using open educational resources is culturally rather unfamiliar and novel. On the other hand, receiving commercial publisher sales reps into academic officers to discuss adoption of their copyright-resticted products is common and prevalent.
  7. Although there are some innovative exceptions, in most tertiary education institutions there are considerable untolled barriers, disenablements, disincentives, inertia, accidie, conservatism, blindness and ignorance with regard to the potential strategic value and importance of flexible, online and blended learning. As current design for these learning pathways is developed, it will become increasingly obvious that openness of materials is integral to optimising flexible learning.

will probably be needed to overcome .

  1. There have, however, been some important developments at University of Canberra in recent years including:
    1. Adoption of Moodle as a free and open source LMS software
    2. SAFFIRE grant to develop innovative flexible learning, 2013-2014
  2. Pursuing an open blended learning approach in a conventional tertiary institution such as University of Canberra has not been for the faint-hearted and a good dose of gall has been needed but a tipping point will be reached that will make flexible learning the norm and openness at least much more common and possibly preferred in more many units of study.

Benefits derived from blended and open learning

  1. Archiving/Redundancy/Mobility
  2. Transparency
  3. Student review
  4. Peer review
  5. Internationalisation
  6. Marketing
  7. Alumni
  8. Ethical
  9. Abundance mentality

Challenges in pursuit of blended and open learning

  1. Cultural resistance - this is changing e.g., free culture - see also Wesch ALT-C 2009
  2. Institutional resistance - e.g., policy, tools
  3. Skill deficit i.e., skill level / task difficulty ratio
  4. Current bad habits
  5. Tendency to focus on short- rather than long-term
  6. Impoverishment consciousness (Scrooge-syndrome)

Example sites

  1. Psychology 102 - Moodle
  2. Survey research and design in psychology - Moodle
  3. Social psychology (psychology)



See also