Individualised flexible learning

The only constant is change (Heraclitus, 535BC-475BC). As we move through life the wisdom of these words becomes more evident, particularly at this point in the 21st Century.

Nugget point

I came to New Zealand in 1981 and embarked on a journey of learning and discovery in my midwifery career. At that time maternity care was ‘service focussed’ . Care was based on ritual and tradition rather than evidence and best practice. Over the space of the following decade women and midwives lobbied for change seeking a more woman centred form of care. The midwife woman partnership model, which is now embedded in legislation and is the basis of the maternity service in New Zealand, was the result of a great deal of hard work and involved significant change for women, midwives and the medical establishment. Although most women and midwives have embraced this model, there are still a few from both sides who do not, they retain aspects of the old service based model, where ritual and traditional practice prevails and choice for women is limited.

As I learn more about this new career of mine, tertiary teaching, it seems to me that we are moving along a similar path. Traditional teaching practices are based on a didactic pedagogy, where expert teachers prepare and deliver information to students who passively absorb the information. Eventually students sit exams where they provide the answers the teacher is looking for gaining the appropriate qualification. The sum total of their knowledge on the topic is what has been imparted to them and they have few skills or desire to seek further knowledge or information. They are now the experts and have the knowledge to perform whatever task it is that they have been trained to perform. This was fairly much the basis of my nursing and midwifery education. Teaching is standardised to meet the needs of the class and the institution. Students are required to suppress their individual needs to the needs of the group, learning is standardised. To me the limitations of this model of education are quite obvious. With the freedom to share information knowledge is being shared and new knowledge is being generated continuously. Learners need skills in assimilating and critiquing this. They need to be adaptable and responsive to change.

We are here now debating the merits of flexible learning, why do we need flexible learning what is the background to flexible learning what is the theory and basis for it. Principally I would say flexible learning is important because we are diverse in our learning styles and in our past experience on which we build our present learning. Therefore every individual in a class or course of study will have differing learning needs. As educators we need to be flexible to these needs and have the ability to treat each learner as an individual. It seems that education is moving in a similar direction to the midwifery profession. Each student is an individual with individual learning needs and education needs to be responsive to that.Using
Knowles androgogical approach allows learners to build on prior knowledge and grow through experimentation and experience. Students are able to identify their own learning needs and work at their own pace and in their own time to meet the learning goals they have developed in consultation with a course facilitator. The facilitator provides guidance to the student and provides resources which may assist their learning.

Industry sets some limits on total flexibility. There are specific learning outcomes that must be met. There is a particular time frame in which a course must be completed. Educators need to work with students to identify how and when the will meet these learning goals which need to identified and clearly articulated to the student. This ministry of education report outlines what is meant by excellence in teaching. To meet these goals of excellence we need to be responsive to the learner, for example;

  • Quality teaching recognises and builds on students’ prior experiences and knowledge.
  • New information is linked to student experiences.
  • Student diversity is utilised effectively as a pedagogical resource.
  • Quality teaching respects and affirms cultural identity (including gender identity) and optimises educational opportunities.
  • Teachers have knowledge of the nature of student learning processes in the curriculum area, can interpret student behaviour in the light of this knowledge and are responsive, creative and effective in facilitating learning processes.
  • Examples of teaching approaches that are intended to exemplify this characteristic are the dynamic or flexible literacy models, the numeracy strategy focus and the Interactive Teaching Approach in science education.
  • Classroom management enables the teacher to be responsive to diverse learners.
  • Responsive teaching is important for all learners and particularly critical for students with special needs.

All of the above require a flexible and responsive approach to education and student learning. These ideas are a synthesis of the best available evidence so it would seem that evidence supports what seems to me to be so obvious, we are flexible learners and learning is optimised when ti is individualised.

Learners also learn best in learning communities and this is something that educators also need to support

  • Pedagogical practices create an environment that works as a learning community.
  • Student motivation is optimised and students’ aspirations are supported and extended.
  • Caring and support is generated through the practices and interactions of teacher(s) and students

Perhaps we need a partnership model in education?

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1 Comment

  1. Carolyn you are alongside Chef in saying “Industry sets some limits on total flexibility. ” See

    I totally agree with the idea of a partnership model for education AND I would like to see education replaced by learning with industry having less say in what people learn. Obviously where certain qualifications and skills are regulated by industry, there will need to be conformity. But learning and scholarship need to return to us so we can get the joy back for exploring new knowledge.

    This partnership model could be underpinned by your preference for learning contracts.


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