Sunday, 13 May 2012

Examples of Flexible Learning

Examples of Flexible Learning

Sorry for this late post, just catching up on a very busy month. First of all I did go visit and speak with two teachers.  I talked to an old colleague of mine in the Ministry of Education who is an Early Childhood teacher. Although some of the context of what we are learning in regard to a tertiary setting do not translate to an early childhood setting (graded assessment for example) what was interesting was some of her comments about the’ concept of flexibility’ and the ‘assessment of individual’ and ‘group needs’.

I didn’t record this session and I will not use her name however, I noted some key points which I will explore here briefly. Firstly she noted that early childhood education is all about flexibility. Many of our centres have routines in relation to developmental needs (such as kai time, sleep time), however for the learning environment they are continually assessing where children are at and what they can do to stimulate learning. Flexibility sits at the core of ‘Te Whariki’ – our national early childhood curriculum and it seems to be a great balance of allowing children’s individual learning to grow, while meeting the core learning themes within the curriculum. She also clearly articulated ‘who’ her students were and quickly moved from general descriptions (such as age, gender)  into different types of learners. She talked about children she remembered teaching who had strong language skills, to those who were frustrated beyond belief as their language came later for them. She gave one example of teaching children to sign to help them with this frustration.  What interested me was her story of how she felt upset when her son entered into mainstream school and the choice, or flexibility of the education programme diminished as he was ‘trained’ into the compulsory education system. 

This started me thinking about the times when we do have ‘flexibility’ and’ fixed’ types of learning and if we are taught how to recognise them, and how to make the most out of both types of methods. This then lead on to my other discussion with an OT colleague- Alexa who is the other course coordinator I am working with as we combine our papers for next year. I went and saw Alexa in regard to an activity for CCEH, and added this activity for FL into the conversation. This session was recorded and involved a great debate! It was over an hour long so I haven’t uploaded it, however after listening to the conversation I had with her I plotted our currently two separate courses using the table referred to in Casey & Wilson (2005). I thought it would be interesting to see how this might change over time as we critically evaluate and merge our papers.

(Please follow the link to my first attempt at using the table from Casey & Wilson (2005). I will go over this again with Alexa as we develop our new course in more detail.)


In terms of Flexibility both Alexa and I were fairly similar, however I think we sometimes confused ‘choice’ for example “…students can submit an assessment online or via hard copy”, with flexibility. Although choice is an important component of flexibility, I think it goes deeper than this as we have to make sure that the different components are aligned to support flexible options for better learning. For example, if some students submit assessments via online, and others via hardcopy do we have the technological and administrative support to cater for this, or are we at risk of ‘loosing’ some assessments which would undermine this choice? This is a simplistic example, but as we go forward we are trying to make sure any changes we put in place are 'doable' from an institutional and technological point of view as well as being learner centred.

Finally our discussion about ‘learners’ was great. Alexa is the ‘go to’ person for year 1 students so she knows them very well by the time I teach in second semester. We usually meet before I start teaching so she can alert me to any teaching/ learning needs that students have and also identify students who have asked for extra assistance.

Table from: Casey, J. & Wilson, P. (2005). A practical guide to providing flexible learning in further and higher education. Table 2.2 P.7 &8.


  1. Gina the point you make that: "Although, choice is an important component of flexibility, ... it goes deeper than this ...", highlights something that prickles educators - how much choice should there be to be truly flexible?

    I think it is okay to stipulate that most students should submit assessments online, but the option to submit via hard copy could be provided if a student has special circumstances. For example, they live in the back of beyond without electricity. Otherwise, the chaos that would ensue would not be sustainable - with regard to marking and administration. So flexibility is a balancing act and in the name of cost-effectiveness someone has to take control at some stage.

    It is the same with providing structure for learners - flexible learning does not mean there should be no structure, what it means is that the learners needs should be considered to provide optimal learning experiences. Can you think of an example of where structure is offered as well as flexibility?

    How sad that Te Whariki cannot carry on to mainstream learning for the children.

    It is good to see from your table that most of the dimensions are reasonably flexible. Perhaps moments of assessment could be looked at to make them more flexible, e.g., negotiating the timing and types of assessments with students.

    Why do you regard the aspects associated with the content are reasonably flexible?

  2. Hi, an example of structured leanring is offered when we teach mihi with students. It's very structured and becomes increasingly flexible as we move through the weeks. The learning on marae is also structured but afterwards- reflections about the learning are offered through flexible opportunities via online and face to face.
    Re: Your suggestion in 2nd paragraph about assessment - this is what we did last year - and it did seem to work well. Only 3 students handed in hard copies.
    Re: Te Whariki- yep it is a bit sad, but I'm working with my 4 year old at the moment in conflict management about 'not wanting to wear a coat in Dunedin winter'. So thinking some structured learning from mum is now going to take place - not quite Te Whariki- but at least he'll be warm!
    I guess I put content as flexible in my course as students can choose key areas they want to investigate- in regard to assessments and learning... Thanks Gina