Welcome to the sixty-fourth issue of The LTO Best Practices. Each month, the Learning & Teaching Office will be spotlighting a timely topic in education and professional development in teaching. This April, our topic is "Flexible Learning."
For more information on the flipped classroom, download our Teaching Tips document on Flexible Learning [pdf].
Check out our page of Teaching Tips handouts for more downloadable documents on a variety of teaching topics.
Shifts in demographics have led to a change in the student bodies of universities, with greater numbers of mature students, students with full time jobs or families, and international students. There has been a change in both student expectations for their education, with a greater emphasis on job preparedness and customizable or self-directed experiences, and employer expectations for their workforce, with a push for greater “flexibility and transferable skills” that will equip students for “more fluid working lives” (UBC).
Flexible learning is one way to address these shifts. Flexible learning gives students choices about when, where, and how they learn. This is often referred to as the pace, place, and mode of learning.
Flexible learning can “help meet the needs of a diverse range of students,” “allow students to combine work, study, and family,” and “enable students to develop skills and attributes to successfully adapt to change” (HEAC). By providing choices in learning delivery (online, face-to-face, blended), scheduling options (part-time, full-time, day, night), personalization of programs (degrees, certificate, just-in-time programs, career-based learning), options for experiential and community-based learning, and the inclusion of open content that is freely available, flexible learning has been shown to improve student learning outcomes and increase access to education (UBC).
Ryan & Tilbury define the scope of flexible learning through the lens of six “pedagogical ideas.” In this model, the six “pedagogical ideas” are interrelated and overlapping, with one idea, “learner empowerment,” at its core. In flexible learning, the “balance between instruction and facilitation is being revisited in fundamental ways, with implications for pedagogical dynamics and the learner-educator relationship.” This model of learning challenges “the authority of the expert educator and makes space for an enhanced contribution from the learner, by changing the dynamics of learning interactions as well as confronting the power frames that underpin the academic project as a whole” (Ryan & Tilbury, 2013).
The six pedagogical ideas that form a framework for flexible learning are as follows:
The goal of flexible teaching and learning is to provide students with “accessible, immersive, collaborative, personalized, and online-enriched” educational experiences (UBC). Flexible learning empowers students by allowing them to co-create knowledge and to choose their own pathway to learning, and by providing them with opportunities to engage with each other and the world. This can be accomplished through:
Remember that true flexibility goes beyond just replacing one learning format with another; it means providing students with an actual choice, whether it is in the way the course content is presented, or how they are assessed. This is a hallmark of not just flexible learning, but also universal design.
Gordon, N. 2014. Flexible Pedagogies: technology-enhanced learning. Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/resources/tel_report_0.pdf
Higher Education Academy (HEAC). Flexible Learning. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/workstreams-research/themes/flexible-learning
Ryan, A. & Tilbury, D. 2013. “Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas.” Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/resources/npi_report.pdf
University of British Columbia. Flexible Learning. http://flexible.learning.ubc.ca/
"The LTO Best Practices" is produced monthly by Michelle Schwartz, Instructional Design and Research Strategist at the Learning & Teaching Office, Ryerson University.
Do you have any thoughts, suggestions, or best practices that you would like to see appear in this newsletter? Please send all submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to including your contributions in our next issue!
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