The Research Digest, April 2016, Issue 54

The Research Digest highlights new research in learning and teaching. This month, we are highlighting recent work on flexible learning. This issue was developed in conjunction with April’s issue of Best Practices on Flexible Learning. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, or have any suggestions for us, please send an email to lto@ryerson.ca. To access past issues of the Research Digest, visit the LTO website.

New research on flexibility in the classroom:

The Meaning of Flexibility in Teaching: Views from College Students and Exemplary College Instructors
Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 2015
This study examined the meaning of flexibility in teaching at the postsecondary level and its connection to teaching effectiveness. A total of 500 college students and 15 instructors participated. Data were gathered using an online survey with open-ended questions for the students and one-on-one interviews with instructors. Analysis followed a grounded theory approach. Findings indicated that both students and instructors believed that when an effective teacher is also flexible, student learning improves. Considered as a crucial component of teaching effectiveness, flexibility in teaching is closely associated with a teacher’s metacognitive reflection on student learning.

Examining Increased Flexibility in Assessment Formats
Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 2012
There have been calls in the literature for changes to assessment practices in higher education, to increase flexibility and give learners more control over the assessment process. This article explores the possibilities of allowing student choice in the format used to present their work, as a starting point for changing assessment, based on recent studies and current examples of flexible assessment practice in higher education. The benefits of this flexible assessment format approach are highlighted, along with a discussion of classic assessment considerations such as validity, reliability and marking concerns. The role of technology in facilitating assessment method choice is considered, in terms of new opportunities for providing student choice in the way they evidence their learning and present their work. Considerations for implementing flexible assessment choices into the curriculum are presented, along with a call that further research into such practice is needed to develop a comprehensive set of practical recommendations and best practice for the implementation of flexible assessment choice into the curriculum. The article should be of interest to curriculum developers and academics considering implementing changes to the assessment process to increase student ownership and control.

A Model for Effective Implementation of Flexible Programme Delivery
Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 2008
The model developed here is the outcome of a project funded by the Quality Assurance Agency Scotland to support implementation of flexible programme delivery (FPD) in post-compulsory education. We highlight key features of FPD, including explicit and implicit assumptions about why flexibility is needed and the perceived barriers and solutions to implementing it. Our model addresses issues in implementing FPD at three levels within institutions: institutional, operational, and teaching and learning management, supporting strategic alignment at all three levels. It has been used to analyse four case studies at the University of Dundee and the UHI Millennium Institute

Towards Flexible Learning for Adult Learners in Professional Contexts: An Activity-Focused Course Design
Interactive Learning Environments, 2011
This article argues for a flexible model of learning for adults which allows them to make choices and contextualise their learning in a manner appropriate to their own professional practice whilst also developing as a member of a learning community. It presents a design based around online “learning activities” which draws on ideas of constructivism, collaborative learning and reflective practice. The model was developed for adult learning in Higher Education, and has been adapted and extended to a number of different programmes. Implementation of the model for the Teaching Qualification (Further Education) has been the subject of an interpretative evaluation using a multiple methods approach. Learners’ experiences of this programme together with issues associated with the application of the model to other programmes are discussed.

Achieving Flexible Learning through Recognition of Prior Learning Practice: A Case-Study Lament of the Canadian Academy
Open Learning, 2010
Although the recognition of learners’ experiential learning toward postsecondary credentials holds the promise of increased flexibility and opportunity for many, especially in the current climate of labour shortage, Canadian universities have been slow to adopt recognition of prior learning (RPL) systems. This case study of one Canadian institution showcases its RPL practice against the framework of the challenges that face RPL in traditional academic settings; and presents some of the lessons learned by Canada’s foremost open and distance institution’s RPL practice.

Transforming Learning Infrastructures in the Social Sciences through Flexible and Interactive Technology-Enhanced Learning
Learning Inquiry, 2009
The changing higher educational landscape in Europe creates new learning infrastructures and transforms existing ones. Students are thus provided with new possibilities and challenges. Through the case study of a newly developed common curriculum for the social sciences of a public university in Austria, this article discusses the interacting social agents, elements, and tools of a flexible and interactive technology-enhanced learning model. In doing so, the transnational, national, and local infrastructural conditions and challenges are critically examined from a socio-technological perspective. Selected evaluation and survey results highlight students’ learning practices, usage behavior, and suggestions to improve their learning situation. The article concludes that student-centered learning models focusing on flexibility and interactivity can support the stable implementation of a common curriculum and its technology-enhanced learning infrastructure for the social sciences at public universities with high student numbers.

The Relationship between Flexible and Self-Regulated Learning in Open and Distance Universities
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 2012
Flexibility in learning provides a student room for volitional control and an array of strategies and encourages persistence in the face of difficulties. Autonomy in and control over one’s learning process can be seen as a condition for self-regulated learning. There are a number of categories and dimensions for flexible learning; following professional publications, time, location, lesson content, pedagogy method, learning style, organization, and course requirements are all elements to consider. Using these categories and the dimensions of flexible learning, we developed and validated a questionnaire for an open and distance learning setting. This article reports on the results from a study investigating the relationship between flexible learning and self-regulated learning strategies. The results show the positive effects of flexible learning and its three factors, time management, teacher contact, and content, on self-regulated learning strategies (cognitive, metacognitive, and resource based). Groups that have high flexibility in learning indicate that they use more learning strategies than groups with low flexibility.

Anytime, Anywhere, Anyplace: Articulating the Meaning of Flexible Delivery in Built Environment Education
British Journal of Educational Technology, 2011
This paper describes a process for negotiating aspects of flexible learning through the consideration of flexibility from student, teacher and institutional perspectives. The process aimed to reconcile, in an Australian school of architecture, the competing demands of learner’s increasing flexibility demands, teacher’s attributes and pedagogical objectives and the structural limitations that militate against the delivery, resourcing and maintenance of flexibility. Results indicated that the only categories of flexibility (out of time, content, access/entry requirements, pedagogy and delivery) that were demanded by students were pedagogy (but only in the choice of working in groups) and delivery; whereas teachers were merely willing to offer flexibility in delivery. Thus, what students desired of teaching, and what teachers were able to provide, were multiple mediums of knowledge delivery that allowed students flexibility in when and where they could learn. These findings, it is suggested, have relevance for course redesign throughout the creative/visual arts.

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