Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Amber's Flexible Learning Needs!!!

Amber rang me last week to enquire about the National Certificate in Mental Health (Mental Health Support work) (Level 4). Amber had initially found out about the course through her boss who had explained to her that he was obligated via his funding contracts to ensure that she completed the National Certificate in Mental Health. He had explained that if she completed the course while working in a mental health service she would be eligible to receive a $2000 scholarship. Amber and I got talking about her situation.

Amber is 36 years old, she is a single mum raising three children and she works part time as a mental health support worker in a residential setting. By choice Amber works during the day while her children are at school and is home by three. Amber had not engaged in any study since secondary school. She had not enjoyed secondary school and was of the view that knowledge learnt in life and on the job was more valuable than what she termed 'book knowledge'. During our conversation she explained that she was 'nervous about putting herself out there' and revealed that she lacked confidence in her ability to learn in a classroom setting. She explained that she knew she could learn because she had taught herself significant computer skills but that she felt she worked at a much slower pace than others, that she was easily distracted and consequently got behind and became confused. Amber wanted to know the following;

Amber’s questions

My Response

Could she start the course immediately?

I explained that she could not as she had missed the first term and consequently missed key information that would set her up for the year.

Could she do it online in her own time and from her own home?

I explained that she could not as the course wasn’t currently online.

Could she access resources online?

I explained that she could independently access resources but that I hadn’t stored specific resources anywhere for her to access.

Could she leave at 2.30 in order to be home by three for her children?

I explained that she could if she needed to but that she would miss key material between 2.30 and 3pm and would need to either follow up with me to catch up on this or access it from peers.

Did I provide any additional support?

I explained that I ran tutorials between 3pm and 5pm after class but I acknowledged that this would be a problem for her since she had to be home for children.

I explained that I had an open door policy but that I taught three days a week and was often in meetings.

I explained that emailing me questions was the best option but that I wouldn’t always respond to these immediately.

How would I cater to her learning needs and to her learning style?

I explained that I was a creative teacher and made a conscious effort to cater to the learning needs and styles of all my students in teaching and assessment strategies but that because there was a range of learning needs and styles to cater to, I wasn’t able to cater specifically to hers all the time.

Since she had to come to class would there be plenty of opportunity for social interaction?

I explained that because the course was fulltime taught in one contact day per week, the contact day tended to be very busy. Consequently social interaction opportunities were typically limited to lunch times, group project work where students gathered out of class time and end of term celebrations.

Amber was articulate and her clarity about her needs made me realise how much more I could be doing to provide a flexible learning environment for students!

The Flexways site which is recommended reading from our flexible learning course provides an excellent, succinct and clear overview of flexible learning. I strongly recommend reading this. It is a great starting point.

Cheers For Now


  1. Great post Jen!!! Great. So much more engaging as it seems to be based on real events. SO honest and open too, and highlighting very real issues with our standard approach to providing educational services to our community. Your empathy to ambers needs, and your ability to articulate them are a highlight for us in the course. Thanks so much for making the time to write this up.

    I wonder if you might base your progress in this course on Amber's needs? Might as well.. within 10 weeks or so, you might be able to call Amber back and tell her the good news :)

  2. I must admit I had a wee chuckle while reading this post - poor old Amber-she's got a lot stacked up against her. And a lot of thinking for you.

    The question I have is how economical is it for us as educators to be that flexible for individuals, especially in courses where there are a large number of students?

  3. HI Jenny
    Great post - I think you have explained really well how challenging it can be to be a student contemplating study. I empathise with Amber in that the reason she is doing the course is because her boss says she is 'obligated' and that always fires up the rebellious side of me. Having said that, I like that you are fair, but firm with Amber and that she clearly understands what you can do to help her and what she needs to do to help herself. It's a good balance.


  4. Hi Jenny
    A great story and one I can relate to with students who apply for Beauty Therapy all the time - your blog was easy to read and understand too - great that you identify that she needs to help herself too - a lot of the time I feel that we as tutors are expected to go that "extra mile" with no onus on the students to do the same.
    However, it will be great to see if there are some options for flexibility in the course delivery that may allow this student to achieve.

  5. Hi Jenny
    loved Amber's tale of woe and your whole blog site is Great. I enjoyed the utube "blogging in plain english",(i must admit to being rather slow about the whole thing). Anyway a question I'd like to put-out-there is:-If courses are to become so flexible that students don't need to attend class, do we run the risk of them loosing out on that valuble, social, interaction of group learning that "Amber" would obviously enjoy?

  6. Its a good question Tracey.. and a shame it remains unchallenged or answered by your colleagues :(

    My challenge therefore:

    Is classroom learning really the type of group learning you are refering to?

    Have you seen evidence of socially constructed learning on the Internet? I know of quite a few students organising study groups on Facebook for example.. and one need not look far to find networks of learners on Youtube.

    Where else does group learning take place that is not in the classroom structure? Student cafe? libraries? social clubs?

    What might we who are used to the classroom learning environment gain by closely looking at all these and questioning our understanding of group learning? How might flexibility be gained by drawing ideas and methods from these alternative examples?


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