Monday, June 29, 2009

Flexble Learning in Educational Settings

Well I have watched the Kaplan university adds 1 and 2 (an expensive looking add campaign), read Otago Poly's Charter (Which I am reasonably familiar with), listened to the ellumiate session with Phil Ker (which was fascinating) and then gone off and read a few colleagues blogs and plans. I found Helen's and Gary's particularly useful in terms of the upcoming task. I'm pleased to say that I am no longer a lurker - It's just because I now know how to leave comments! I have not carried out a formal interview with a colleague but I have talked a lot with my colleague David McQuillian who has been a huge inspiration for me so maybe I can talk about that a bit and add an interview at a later date.

I actually really enjoyed listening to members of EDC and Phil talking about fexible learning but I'm not sure if a distinction was made between 'flexible' and 'online' learning or not. Phil described the Polytechnics motives for flexible learning and these were summarised on the whiteboard as Access, Learner Autonomy and Cost Efficiencies. These motivations seem to be more alighned with online learning than with the much broader concept of flexible learning. Phil went on to describe what we mean by flexible learning which again emphasised ideas associated with online learning and gave the example of CAPL and the online development work of other schools. What I found particularly interesting was that when Phil talked about examples from his own teaching experience, they were not online examples, rather he talked about quality teaching, hours of planning in order to get the delivery just right, motivating and inspiring a passion for knowledge and learning in all his students. He talked about one group who maintained motivation because of weekly classroom sessions.

I think that flexible learning has become synonymous with online learning and that this is potentialy detrimental for quality education particularly in the current poltical economic environment. There is a danger of promoting online learning at the expense of providing quality education and I think that educationalists should take care not to get too caught up in the sensationalist aspects but rather try to maintain some focus in what is best for this group of students/ for this course etc. If flexible learning is at least in part about catering more to the needs of students rather than to the needs of teachers then it stands to reason that providing a quality education for all students could become more time consuming for teachers, more labour intensive and more rather than less expensive. Certainly online and self directed activities will meet some student's needs but there will always be student's whose needs require face to face and significant scaffolding. In a truly flexible environment the teacher would then be needing to run face to face sessions and online sessions which is in keeping with the idea of blended delivery.

Having said this, call me cynical but we are in a political and to some extent economic climate (I think in the current context the econonmic climate is enabling the political one) that requires a shift to online learning whether we like it or not. I think that if we are passionate about education we have a duty to jump on this band wagon, learn some skills and figure out how we can provide the most flexible learning environment possible for our students.

Reflecting a little bit more the climate isn't only one which is being imposed by political agenda and economic need, rather it is about social change. The world, what we think about knowledge and our right to access this is infinately different from what it was twenty years ago. I suspect educators who are refusing to go online will find themselves being left behind. I already see evidence of this in the groups I teach. Many of my students young and old have moved sgnificantly in the last few years, this year I still have students struggling with the idea of online resourses and I happily provide three students in my group with hard copies of the material. I also have 6 out of 16 students in this particular group using laptops in the class room which is very exciting but I am drifting somewhat off track.

The final point here is just to reiterate that I think flexible learning and online learning are two very different things. Online activities can potentially enhance my capacity to be a more flexible teacher but going online will not make me flexible. On the contrary going entirely online could be particularly inflexible.

Colleagues I have talked to in the massage course and midwife school who have successfully enhanced their capacity to offer flexible learning by going online have done so by offering a blended delivery. The massage course combines block face to face practical sessions with online theory. I think there is a lot of scope for this kind of delivery in my course. I found David's shift to online learning absolutely inspirational. I feel if massage can do it, then mental health support certainly can too. I have learnt a lot from David as he figures out the in's and outs of delivering his course online. One thing that he has suggested and which I will definatelty heed is the importance of setting the course up on an information management system like blackboard or Moodle. He set his students up from the outset on Blogs and does not think this was the most student friendly move. I will need to go back and interview him more formally to clarify his thinking here but it has rubbed off on me. I have also learnt about the use of google docs and google groups which are both tools I can see being very useful in my course.

A little bit more about blackboard - this time last year I had only used it as a student in my PD courses. My colleague Kate Timms introduced me to it more thoroughly and I now have most of my courses set up here. I am already finding blackboard a bit limiting but that said , I just feel so ignorant and like I have deprived my students of so much by not using this tool more thoroughly in the past. I can't wait to get my head around Moodle and move to that.

The mid wife course held a significant face to face orientation in which students learnt the necessary computing skills in addition to getting to know each other at an overnight camp. I think this would be an important aspect in scaffolding my students. I am also really excited by the work sarah stuart is doing with Second Life for the Mid Wife Course. I can see this potentially being a fabulous tool in my course. I think the thing for me to remember is to not try and do everything at once.



  1. Wonderful post Jen.. you really are cooking up a storm with this! What a shame you weren't posting at the time others were.. you set the standard!!

    One thing I might say about Dave's advice.. is that he went straight into student blogging without (I think) making the time for himself and staff to learn by way of networking online.

    Course Management Systems like Moodle certainly make it a little easier, but the key objection I think is that they don't (in themselves) help students to easily access (they need passwords) nor take ownership of their work beyond the life of their moodle login.

    In saying that, there's nothing stopping you designing activities that direct students towards that sort of thing. Showing them how to use the Internet productively - from the "safety" of your Moodle to start with.

    I'm sad Dave gives this advice, but I can understand why.

  2. Oh Leigh, how can anyone not succumb to your passion and enthusiasm. I'm sorry we make you sad. I totally see that I need my course outline etc on a blog - if I want to go online - how else do I get it out there! and I totally see that this is a useful forum for much of the course work and I totally get that it is much better for getting buy in and building community. I read with enthusiasm that you can go private on a blog but why would you want too? unless you were a human service student that needed to deal with some intense and personal issues.

    I'm not closed to going the blog way in fact - I'm a bit nervous about not going that way because I see you convincing all the EDC lot and I think - I'm just going to get it all set up on Moodle and then we will be told to change to blogs. I think if I could figure out how to use Google reader better it might help - This may sound dumb - forgive me but is google reader an information management system?

    Aother question - I thought the whole reason we were moving to moodle was because it was open - I thought students could access it without being enroled and having passwords - Have I got the wrong end of the stick on that?

    If it's any consolation - I too feel sad not to have the stimulation of going through the course with other students and I honestly would far rather be on here chatting to interesting people. As you may have figured , I'm quite partial to a chat. Unfortunately I'm not disciplined enough to do little bits, I'm totally all or nothing. It is very exhausting being me and I'm not slack - far too much of a perfectionist and I can never just engage in somehing superficially - wish I could! That said I worked out that I was gifting my school .4 last year and this year I've got that down to .2 so I'm making progress!!!


  3. Hi Jen,

    I'm not opposed to everything bar blogs (although most think so) its just that so many people seem to elect for Learning Management Systems like Moodle without critiquing the platform or their apparent reasons for using it. At least you are experienced with blogging and so your opinion is informed with regard to blogging. Time to do the same for Moodle guess. No, people do not have open access to content in Moodle. They can access by logging in, either as guests or as students. Compare that to the wiki or a standard website. Anyone can see the page without having to login.


Welcome to my blog. Please feel free to add thoughtful, funny and/or constructive comments.