Professor Som Naidu, Pro-Vice Chancellor Flexible Learning and Director, Centre for Flexible Learning
“A paradigm shift is taking place in education towards greater flexibility for all stakeholders, students, teachers and institutions, and it is imperative that we adapt and evolve with it otherwise we risk leaving our students ill prepared for the workplace and future work”.
Professor Som Naidu, Pro-Vice Chancellor Flexible Learning and Director, Centre for Flexible Learning made this comment while speaking at the meeting of the Regional Campus Directors of The University of the South Pacific (USP) during their gathering at the Statham Campus in Laucala.
These changes in our approaches to learning and teaching he said, are appearing across all sectors of education and in various forms such as open learning, online learning, e-learning, mobile, blended, distributed and disaggregated learning.
Open learning, he explained is about the practice of open access and open scholarship while Online learning is learning while being connected synchronously and/or asynchronously. E-learning, he said involved the use of electronic tools while mobile learning is learning with the use of mobile devices. And blended learning, also referred to as hybrid learning, is about blending modes of study such as online learning with periods of face-to-face residential learning and teaching or printed study packages.
“Distributed learning is where learners and teachers are engaged in the educational process while being distributed over a virtual and/or physical network of resources, learning and teaching opportunities. And “Disaggregated learning reflected the changing role of the teacher in this new and evolving learning and teaching space with various aspects of the learning and teaching transaction being devolved to various parts and parties and not confined to the form and function of the subject matter expert(s),” he stated.
In this scenario tertiary learning and teaching is increasingly becoming an outcome of the efforts of a team of specialists including subject matter experts, learning designers and technologists, and a variety of student support staff, instead of the sole responsibility of the traditional academic who designs and teaches a course, and assesses student learning outcomes.
Two critical points in relation to these kinds of shifts are that flexibility in learning teaching practices is no longer an option for us but an educational imperative - a value principle, much like we see diversity, equity or equality in education and society more broadly, and in the contemporary world, both in the developed and developing contexts, technological tools and infrastructure are key components of it.
“These educational imperatives are rapidly becoming universally attractive across all sectors and modes of education, and a growing trend that is illuminated by the exponential growth of online learning across the spectrum, including recent developments in this space such as massive open, online courses (MOOCs),” Professor Naidu said.
He said that while flexibility is quickly becoming the norm, there are challenges and especially with bold initiatives like MOOCs. One of these is student persistence or its converse, attrition in MOOCs, mindful of the fact that greater flexibility in itself is not the cause of student attrition, as many students (especially adult and part time students) often do not set out to complete a full programme of study and often withdraw for very personal reasons which have nothing to do with the quality of their study programme.
He pointed out that while there are examples of very successful attempts at integrating flexibility in learning and teaching here and elsewhere, effectively integrating flexibility remains patchy especially in relation to learner interaction with teachers, their subject matter, with student peers, the educational organisation, design and adoption of flexible approaches to the assessment of learning outcomes, and provision of feedback to learners on their learning and assessment activities.
He conceded that while flexible learning and teaching is central to educational practice at the University, its adoption and integration will to vary in different disciplines, and rightly so, as the degree of flexibility is a function of a variety of factors including the nature of the subject matter or skill that is being learned, the learning context, and accreditation requirements for the programme of study.
“The end game, or the goal should be to move from a position of baseline adoption and integration to aspirational goals and targets,” and about getting the mixture and balance right between the degree of structure and guidance on the one hand, and freedom and flexibility on the other, in order to promote and achieve effective, efficient and engaging learning and teaching outcomes.
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