Twenty years ago when I was in primary school in my country, teaching and learning activities was conducted in very formal traditional settings in which the teacher delivered the materials based on text books and the students just sat behind the desk while listening to the teacher’s explanation. Sitting position had been set up by the school so that the interaction between students-students and students-teacher was very limited. I still remembered that the teacher explained too much about the materials regardless of thinking about whether the students understood the materials or not. The teachers just pointed out how to accomplish and complete the tasks as the teachers. In this case, the students did not have many possibilities to take part in asking and arguing their opinion about the materials, and of course in choosing the materials they wished to learn. In short, at that time, the teaching learning process was performed by conducting traditional forms of transfer information and communication with the emphasis of face-to-face and formal meetings and printed forms of materials.
How about current conditions??
Well, in this digital era, everything can be flexible with the support of technology. Even, actually without technology, we can still be flexible in many ways and opportunities. Giving the chances for the students to choose their preferred content of materials can be seen as flexible as well in the content materials. However, the flexibility nowadays can be implemented well to reach established goals in educational domains by the support of technology. It is undeniable that technology can ease and mediate learners and instructors to choose their preferred modes of instruction, content, and time of delivery learning. In this case, Internet, I think, has significant role in generating and giving more opportunities for teachers and students to set up what is the so-called “flexible learning”.
What is flexible learning?
Flexibility means that something can be bent and changed without breaking. If it is about time, the time should not be 100% fixed and still negotiable to change and adapt. It is like elastic, if we are talking about the product of the materials. So what is flexible learning then? According to Nikolova (1998) Flexibility is considered in terms of adaptation to the individual learner’s needs and preferred learning modes. She added that flexibility, according to Collis, is defined as giving the learner choices with relation to the flexibility dimensions.
Many scholars have different ideas to define flexible learning. According to Sadler-Smith (2004) flexible learning can be seen from means of delivery learning or strategies for accommodating individuals’ styles and preferences. Flexible learning requires learners to exhibit a degree of autonomy and self-direction in order to engage effectively in a learning process in which the learner and other actors may not be physically and/or temporally contiguous (Sadler-Smith & Smith, 2004, p. 398). Van den Brande (1993) as cited in Nikolova (1998) maintains that the goal of flexible learning is enabling learners to learn when they want (frequency, timing, duration),how they want (modes of learning), and what they want (that is learners can define what constitutes learning to them. Furthermore, Collis (2001) contends that flexible learning is a movement away from a situation in which key decisions about learning dimensions are made in advance by the instructor or institution, toward a situation where the learner has a range of options from which to choose with respect to these key dimensions, such as time, content, entry requirement, instructional approach and resources as well as delivery and logistic.
From Collis’ point of view and the lectures I joined, I get new insight that flexible learning is not only about time and distance, but it also covers many dimensions of teaching and learning activities. Therefore, this blog will discuss five kinds or dimensions of flexible learning and the possibility or example use of technology and web.
FIVE DIMENSIONS OF FLEXIBLE LEARNING
According to Collis and Moonen (2001), there are five dimensions of learning flexibility:
A. Flexibility related to time
From this dimension, we move from fixed time to (less) flexible time. The times could be times for starting the courses, during the courses, and finishing the courses. Also, the times for submitting assignment or tasks from the teachers could be flexible. Assessment time and tempo/pace of studying could be bendable. In this position, the teacher offers some options for students to choose their preferred times.
B. Flexibility related to content
From this kind of flexibility, the teacher could also give options and opportunities for their students to choose their needs related to topics of the course, sequence of different parts of the course, orientation of the course both from theoretical frameworks and practical activities, key learning materials of the course, and assessment standards and completion requirements.
C. Flexibility related to entry requirements
From this dimension, we can be flexible in determining the conditions or prerequisites for the participation of the entry requirements.
D. Flexibility related to instructional approach and resources
From this perspective, the flexibility can be in the social organization of learning, such as face-to-face, group, or individual meetings, what is the language to be used in the instruction and during the course, learning resources of the materials, and instructional organization of learning, such as assignment and monitoring.
E. Flexibility related to delivery and logistics
The flexibility in this dimension goes through time and place for the course, methods and technology used for delivery and delivery channels for course information, content, and communication.
When we are talking about flexible learning, as I said earlier, technology and internet (Information and Communication Technology) holds a big role in implementing flexible learning based on its kinds of dimensions. To my mind, the spread use of internet or websites can ease the actors the teacher and the learners as well as management institution to reach their established goals of the course in flexible way. I think the implementation of mobile learning is also one kind of flexible learning. To know more about mobile learning, you can visit http://www.m-learning.org/knowledge-centre/whatismlearning. I think through mobile learning, at least we can be flexible in time and location to follow the courses. Furthermore, e-learning with distance learning becomes more flexible by using the application of moodle. Moodle is a kind of application in Learning Management System (LMS) via virtual learning environtment which can be used to create effective online learning sites. Please visit this link http://moodle.org/ to know more about this web application. I think by using moodle we can have flexibility not only about time and place, but also about the content and learning resources. In the university level, I think the use of blackboard as technological advances in learning can mediate the flexible learning. By using Blacboard (http://www.blackboard.com/), the interaction between the teacher and students can occur online regardless time and location. Through Blackboard, the teacher and the students can upload the materials and send email each other from their places electronically. Moreover, the use of video conference can be a flexible way to reduce separated time and location during teaching and learning activities and keep maintain communicative interaction between two parties and one of the tools or application to conduct video conference spread used nowadays is Skype. Please visit http://www.skype.com/ to download and explore more about this application.
Collis, B., & Moonen, J. (2001). Flexible learning in a digital world: Experiences and expectations. London: Kogan Page.
Nikolova, I., & Collis, B. (1998). Flexible learning and design of instruction. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 29(1), 59-72.
Sadler-Smith, E., & Smith, P. J. (2004). Strategies for accomodating individuals' styles and preferences in flexible learning programmes. Bristish Journal of Educational Technology, 35(4), 395-412.