maandag 3 oktober 2011


Flexible learning means that the learner is offered a choice in different aspects of learning (Collis & Moonen, 2001). Flexible learning is complex to implement in practice. Collis and Moonen (2001) summarize a few major barriers confronting the desire to make learning more flexinble, like that flexibility seems to be unmanageable (particularly for instructors, because it takes a lot of time from them), not acceptable (the school culture expects that the course provider is responsible for certain decisions about the course offering), not affordable (each combination of options may require specific input, the more options, the more input is needed) and flexibility seems to be unrealistic (some combinations of options may not be compatible with one antother by their very nature). So why should we want flexible learning? 
Collis and Moonen (2001) give two important reasons. Firstly, the changing characteristics of students in post-secondary education, since those students come from a wide variety of places and all have different experiences and sometimes even different cultures and languages. Secondly, the need for lifelong learning in the context of increasing career mobility.
Since there are a few reasons for wanting flexible learning, we should ask ourselves: how can more flexibility be offered? There are five key dimensions of flexibility (Collis & Moonen, 2001) which will be discussed shortly below.

Flexibility related to time
Giving students the option to choose the time for starting and finishing training programs or courses can be way of offering flexibility. Also students could get the option to decide when to submit an assignment or to make appointments themselves with a teacher for feedback. Yet another way of creating more flexibility is to let students decide their own pace of studying or moments of assessment.

Flexibility related to content
In a training program students can be free to choose elective courses that meet their learning needs. Also within a course flexibility can be offered by letting the students choose specific topics/aspects that will be covered. Also, students can be free to decide the sequence of different parts of a course. Even the course orientation can be left to learners choice: will a course be very theoretical with al lot of lectures or more practical with hands-on assignments? Key learning materials can also be chosen by the students to offer flexibility. For example students can choose between a book or scientific articles. Last but not least students can be offered options for assessment standards and completion requirements (learning goals for example).

Flexibility related to entry requirements
Offering different conditions for participating in a training program or course is a way of creating more flexibility. For example, it is possible to formulate strict entry requirements for a training, like the kind of preliminary training needed. Offering flexibility in this will mean that there are more preliminary training programs giving access to a certain training.

Flexibility related to instructional approach and resources
Students can be given options for the social organization of learning, for example working in a group or individually. Courses can be offered in different languages (for example English and Dutch), but also within a course choices with regard to language could be offered, like the option to choose the language used to write papers or to make assignments. Options for the origin of learning resources can help creating flexibility: will the teacher offer most of the information or will the students do? Or maybe information comes from the internet or the library. Also, choices can be made with regard to the kind and number of assignments that the students need to complete.

Flexibility related to delivery and logistics
Options regarding the place and procedures can be offered. Time and place where contact with the teacher and other students occurs can be decided by the students themselves. This also includes choices like learning at home (distance learning) or maybe outside (for example during a biology lesson/course). Technologies or methods for obtaining support and making contact can also be considered when creating flexibility, for example e-mail, chat or telephone. Also the location and technology for participating in various aspects of the course can be considered, or even the types of help that the teacher provides or that is provided via others (for example students). Lastly, teachers can give students the choice for the delivery channels for course information and content, which means the kind of media used, for example PowerPoint or a Wiki.

A few years ago I started using Dropbox to share information with my team members in a project. Dropbox is a very nice example of a tool that can be used to support flexible learning. You need to download the program, after which it creates a special folder in your 'Documents'-folder. There you can create other folders to save your files, just like in normal folders. The difference is that the files will be updated immediately to the servers of Dropbox. On the site ( you can login and share folders with others. These other people will then be able to edit the files in that folder and after they did, the files will be updated, also on your computer. No need to send files via e-mail. This way students can work wherever they want: the files are not only visible on your computer, but also in your browser when you login to the site, where you can download them. So even when a student has no access to his or her own computer, he is still able to download the most recent version of his work. This has a lot of advantages when you want to be flexible. Visit the site of Dropbox for more information.

Collis, B., & Moonen, J. (2001, second printing 2002). Flexible learning in a digital world: Experiences and expectations. London: Kogan Page.

1 opmerking:

  1. Thank you for this overview of flexible learning! I like the way you introduce this post. You have added some new information (the barriers) and gave some ideas about the need to do it anyway. It would have been nice to read a little bit more about your own ideas on the different flexibilty options. Do you think we should implement them in practice? Or are we already doing this?

    Dropbox is a very simple tool which indeed supports flexibility!