Pedagogical strategies for distance learning

I came across this article ” Pedagogical strategies for building community in graduate level distance education courses” By Eileen McElrath and Kate McDowell, assistant professors in library information services. McElrath and McDowell describe the importance of community to learning and present Brown’s 15 step process to community building in online classrooms.  These steps are, from 1 to 15, tools, comfort level, self assessment and judgments, similarities, needs met, time allotted, supportive interaction, substantive validation, acquaintances/friends, earning trust and respect, engagement, community conferment, widen circle, long term/personal communication, camaraderie. These steps occur in three stages, making friends online, community conferment or acceptance and camaraderie.  They suggest that these processes are facilitated when modeled by instructors and go on to describe strategies which can support this community involvement and shared learning.  Supporting the students in developing a sense of community helps to prevent student isolation. It helps to keep the students motivated and interested in the course. It creates a sense of belonging, that members of the group matter to one another, which has been identified as important for academic success.  The strategies suggested not only help the students to relate to one another, and gain a sense of community, but they also help the students identify the relevance of the course content to their own personal experiences as well as the experiences of their classmates.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains the processes required to reach a state of self actualisation. The basis for this is a sense of safety and security.  This is also important for online learning or distance learning. Supportive interaction is an important part of establishing an online community. Students need to learn how to learn online, they need guidance and support to do this. As they are coming to terms with this new way of learning they need reassurance and ‘reminders to be kind to themselves’ during the course. The distress that can be associated with technology failures, which are bound to occur from time to time, can be alleviated by acknowledging this possibility early in the course and having a back up plan for when these issues occur, both for the facilitator and for the students. In a course that I was involved in, Facilitating online learning communities, several of us had established a network on skype, when we had trouble with the elluminate programme, through which we were connecting as a class, we were able to instantly talk to one another and share what information we had about what was happening. Students also started to use the discussion forum in a synchronus way and established another means of communication through this mechanism. This certainly reduced our anxiety and annoyance with the process and helped me realise the importance of back up communication, whether that is another online source or a cell phone network, anything that facilitates communication when things are not going as they should.

McElrath and McDowell suggest creating a course chat section where students can readily ask any questions in an open format, as they would in a face to face class, allowing other students to share in the discussion and offer their suggestions as well as receiving feedback from the lecturer. They go on to suggest some activities where students can share their own experiences in terms of the course content which can relate to the course outcomes and form a basis from which the students can not only share stories but learn the realities associated with the theoretical components of the course. The entire article is well worth a read for anyone involved in distance or online education.

So how to do I see this applying to the work I am doing at present, establishing a midwifery practice course with a blended learning format. Students will be enrolled in this course, which is part of the entire undergraduate programme being developed in a blended format. Students will not just be based around the confines of Polytech but will be in  groups, some in Dunedin, some in Invercargill and perhaps also in the Central or north Otago areas. The entire class will come together four times a year for a couple of weeks each time and the groups will meet face to face for half a day a week for tutorial support and some learning. The rest of the course content will be online, most of the theoretical components will be learned at a distance. Although the students have regular small groups with whom they can interact on  a regular basis I believe it is important that they also share a sense of identity with the larger class group.

In face to face teaching we often start the session by asking who has experienced this? And start the group discussion from there,  moving on to the theory behind the topic. For example with blood pressures I will ask if anyone has had their blood pressure taken. Has anyone found this to be a painful experience, have they had unanswered questions when their blood pressure has been taken. We then use this as a basis to learn the important aspects of taking blood pressure. I think we could do this online through a discussion forum. We could  use the responses to establish a basis for learning about estimating and recording blood pressure. This is a constructivist approach to learning and the authors of this article suggest that we should be open about this. Students should understand about constructivism and how this applies to their own learning needs. Most midwifery practice skills would be suited to this approach.

I could write more but it is late and I am tired so may return to this another time.


Bringing together some key points in blended, distance and online education

Hazel Owen

I found these videos from Hazel Owen for the DEANZ conference 2008. This is her Bio from you tube. “Hazel Owen is an Academic Advisor (Education Technology Consultant) at Unitec, NZ. She has been involved with implementing ICT enhanced learning for nine years and provides training for faculty, as well as developing blended and online courses. Her research interests include communities of practice/ICT enhanced learning and teaching (ICTELT) underpinned by Sociocultural principles”.

Although the programme she is discussing is far removed from midwifery education none the less aspects of the course are applicable and share common features with our programme.

Facilitating learning communites

Hazel discusses the previous students’ educational experience as being teacher led, content specific and didactic in nature. This may also be the case for our students. The need for student to be supported to move to a learner centered system is described and the tools which facilitate this are demonstrated briefly. In particular is the need for students to develop learning communities which will not only support their current learning but will also prepare them for life long learning. We have discussed this in our programme development but I believe it is integral to the success of the programme and needs to be considered each step of the way. for example in the midwifery practice course we have been working on the preparation of content. We have not yet completed this but we do need to consider how the students will use this content. How will they communicate with each other and share their learning. We have decided to have weekly face to face tutorial groups meetings with the practice facilitator and this will meet this need in part. There needs to be a clear understanding that these tutorial sessions and not for the delivery of content but are to facilitate open discussion and shared learning. We also need to facilitate opportunities for students to connect with each other and we need to make some decisions about how we will encourage them to do this.

Developing a glossary of midwifery terms

Some of the resources that Hazel describes in these videos have been included in our midwifery practice course. For example she discuses the students developing a translation dictionary and, in the CPIT Moodle LMS, Lorna and I have started a Glossary of midwifery words and terminologies which we hope the students will add to and create for their own use. I am a little concerned that perhaps we have been adding too much content already to this, which may make the students feel that they do not own it and discourage them form contributiing.  However it is a useful tool.


Hazel also discusses the development of an e-portfolio as one of the assessment requirements. The requirements for these students to be computer literate for their future work is very clear and may not be seen as a high priority for midwifery students, none the less there are some good ideas which could overlap into our courses. I believe the importance of online communication is a universal requirement. It will be as important for midwives in the future to be able to access information and communicate with each other through online resources as it will for any other professional group. Providing this learning opportunity for out midwifery students is therefore of particular importance to their future learning and professional development. The importance of clear guidelines and instructions and making sure that the links between what is being learned and the applicability to future practice needs to be apparent in everything the students are doing.

I am embedding only the first and third videos which have more generalisability. The second video concentrates on the specific programme for the arabic male students to a greater extent.

I found these videos interesting and they have helped me to consider once again some of the key points which I believe are fundamental to the success of our programme.

Lets keep talking! Distance students need to too.

Ting of Brodgar in Orkney

Ring of Brodgar in Orkney

This post is taken from a comment I left on Sarah Stewart’s blog posting “How spontaneous and serendipitous can we be online”

I have been spending a great deal of time working at home on the new curiculum development. This is good use of my time, avoids a great deal of travel, and allows me to just get on with it. I do feel increasing isolated in this environment. I love that Sarah and I are connected through Skype and I am often able to spontaneously ask a question on text or have a voice chat online. I have also had the opportunity occasionally to ask other colleagues for help and advice in this way. I wish more of us were on Skype, or Gtalk. I too think these are important tools for students if they are going to be sitting at computers at home working on their course material. The really incongruous thing is the absolute importance in midwifery of the relationship between the woman and midwife and the importance of communication to this relationship. I value the ability to work at home but I have a much greater appreciation of the importance of communication and the need to provide students with opportunities to talk to each other. I agree with Pauline (infomidwife) that the range of IT communication resources can be overwhelming and risks students losing interest and not engaging because of this. I agree with free choice but wonder if we, who have a little knowledge of these resources, need to be somewhat directive. This would mean expecting students to use Skype or Gtalk and making sure that they all have contacts with each other through these resources.

I also really want students to blog about their learning experiences and would love to establish a blogging network. As a lecturer however I can see that this could significantly add to my work load. Keeping track of blog postings, considering how to respond and then making appropriate responses. Sarah has developed a really nice easy blogging style, I still struggle and postings seem to be taking me longer and longer to author as I struggle to get the language right. Making sure that students do not breach the confidentiality of women with whom they are working and are not making inappropriate comments about individual midwives practices is another concern and potentially time consuming as a lecturer. It is this aspect, workload, that makes me reluctant to pursue this too vigorously. I would love to know how lecturers who do have blogging networks with students find this. How does it fit into your general workload?

Image from shadowgate photos on


Project Name

Working with women requiring therapeutic intervention.

A module contained within the midwifery practice skills course for first year bachelor of midwifery students.


3rd October 2008


Otago Polytechnic
Project plan author contact details

Carolyn McIntosh


skype: carolynmcintosh

Delicious: carolynmcintosh

Executive summary

This plan outlines the process that will be involved in developing a new module within a new course in a revamped program for midwifery undergraduate education in the South Island of New Zealand. The programme is to be delivered as a collaborative exercise with Otago Polytechnic and Christchurch Polytechnic. The course this focuses on is the midwifery practice skills course and the module it relates specifically to is Working With women Requiring Therapeutic Intervention. Various selected skills will be learned through engaging with modular learning resources delivered through the Moodle learning management system, through face to face learning in the intensives delivered at the beginning, middle and end of the year and through weekly face to face tutorials. Student learning will be supported by encouraging group interaction and learning communities, through interaction and support from preceptor midwives in practice, through interaction and support from midwifery practice facilitators and through interaction and support from midwifery lecturers. This aligns well with the Otago Polytecnic strategic direction for a move to greater flexibility in course delivery and collaboration with other educational institutions.

My Plan


There are some challenges in teaching first year midwifery students. The students are a diverse group of women (we have not had any men in our programme to this point although it is always possible that a man may join the programme at some point in time). Students vary in age and ability. All have met the academic criteria for entry, which requires the equivalent of university entrance qualifications and ability to work at an academic degree programme level. Some have birth experience of their own, working as a doula or childbirth educator right through to recent school leavers with no experience of childbirth at all. So providing learning resources which will keep everyone stimulated and satisfied but understanding and able to keep up with the programme is a challenge. Giving students enough practice experience, while also recognising that they have not yet got the theoretical knowledge to support this experience, is also a challenge. Students need to understand that they have a very limited scope of practice and need to be supervised at all times when involved in midwifery practice. Careful consideration needs to be given to scaffolding learning to meet the learner’s level of understanding and learning needs.

Valliathan discusses three models for blended learning, skill driven, attitude driven and competence drive. I believe all three of these come into play for blended learning in the midwifery practice skills context. Clearly this is a skills based course and skills acquisition is an important part of the course. Attitude is also an important aspect of learning about midwifery practice. Students often come into the course with preconceived ideas which can change dramatically as they are exposed to practice and actual childbirth experiences. They need the opportunity to consider, reflect, share and discuss these experiences and consider the implication for their own midwifery practice. Confidence and competence will grow when students work with mentor or preceptor midwives in practice. These aspects must all be considered within the overall plan. In Valiathan’s discussion of these three aspects of blended learning there are different strategies that accompany each. In the skill model there needs to be a clear plan which can be self paced for the student but requires a strict schedule. There needs to be close contact and overview from the instructor with demonstration of techniques which can be achieved in face to face and supported by synchronous online labs. The attitude model is supported by synchronous online discussion, group work and role plays, and the competence model is achieved through working with mentors and access to a repository of information in a learning management system. All aspects involve close overview and support from a midwifery instructor.

Taking these models and learning requirements into consideration it is necessary in the learning plan to have systems in place for regular contact between lecturers and students and also to have a clear structure and learning goals. Students need a high level of motivation and will need to come prepared to face to face learning ready to interact with one another and to engage with the practical skills learning experience. Students will need to identify their learning goals. They need to identify what they already know about particular skills, and will need clear targets, criteria, standards and exemplars to help them to identify their learning goals (Nichol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). As these will differ from student to student it will be necessary for each student to develop individualised goals and an individualised learning plan.

It is recognised that individuals differ in the way in which they learn best. There are several different ways in which this has been represented. Perhaps the best known of these is the VARK model of learning styles. These are visual, auditory reader and kinesthetic. According to this model learners prefer to learn by seeing pictures or video etc, by hearing either the spoken word or learning is enhanced by listening to music while studying, by reading or by actively doing. The VARK model recognises that while individuals may have a strong personal preference they may also have a mixture of learning styles. If students understand how they learn best themselves then they can use the resources that will best support their learning. As educators we need to provide material to the students in a variety of ways taking into account all of these styles so that there is something there for everyone. Opportunities need to be provided for students to consider new skills, to see the proper process, to reflect identifying implications for practice and to actually use the skills in practice (Kolb, 1984; Atherton, 2005). Reflection leads to a deeper level of learning it helps the student to contextualise and is a key component of learning. The reflective process is a key component of lifelong learning in midwifery (Taylor, 2000).

This model of education follows a constructivist approach as described by Friere (Gadotti, 1994) and Knowles (Knowles & Knowles, 1972). Friere believed that individuals learned best in groups and that learning is enhanced by reflection, while Knowles asserts that adults learn through working together and building on previous experiences. Much of this ‘big picture’ aspect of planning for the students learning experience is considered in the overall midwifery programme but also needs to be considered in planning of each learning experience.


What am I going to do?

The midwifery practice skills course has been divided into four modules. Pregnancy, labour and birth, postnatal and therapeutic interventions. For this plan I am focusing on the module ‘therapeutic interventions’. Unlike the other three this modules will run across the entire first year but principally in the first and second trimesters. The aim of this module is to familiarise students with certain specific skills which are sometimes required during the childbearing year.


I will design a learning program for selected midwifery practice skills. Face to face learning will occur during the three, two week intensives, through weekly tutorial session with their midwifery practice facilitator in their local area and with midwife preceptors with whom they will be gaining midwifery practice experience. Students will be able to access course material and learning resources through the moodle learning management system. Students will also have the opportunity to attend elluminate class sessions from their own home, or local area where they have computer access.

Performance indicators

Students need to be able to

1. demonstrate an ability to use communication skills to develop effective professional relationships with their peers and colleagues.

2. utilise an awareness of effective communication to enhance the quality of the childbearing experience for women and their families.

3. safely perform a range of selected practice skills and be able to outline their underlying theories and rationale.

4. accurately perform drug calculations and demonstrate skill of medication administration.

What are the perceived flexible learning needs of the people that my plan is targeting?

Levels of prior knowledge

As stated in previously students enrolled in the program will have a variety of previous experience and prior knowledge on which they can build their learning. Some students come with previous nursing experience, as enrolled nurses for example. Some may have completed university study and may have a strong knowledge of biology and body systems while others will have only very basic knowledge.

Levels of literacy and numeracy

Students have to have NCEA level 3 entry requirements. Although this should mean that all have good literacy and numeracy skills in reality the level of skill will vary from individual to individual. It is likely that students may range from school leavers who have good digital literacy skills to mature adults who have very little knowledge of computers and digital resources.

Ability and disability

Midwifery practice is physically demanding work which may discount many people who have a physical disability from applying or being able to enter the programme. None the less there are many levels of physical and mental ability and disability and it is possible that our students will vary considerably in these characteristics.

Learning at a distance

Students will vary in their geographical distance from the Polytechnic. Some may be based in Christchurch or Dunedin but others will be centred around other centres such as Nelson Marlborough, Central Otago, Southland etc.

Flexibility in time

Some students may have part time employment. Mothers may need fit in study around family commitments and rural women may be involved in farming activities.

What type of flexible learning services will there be?

Enrollment; There is little ability to be flexible with enrollment. Students will commence the course at the start of the academic year. Students may however choose to enroll part time initially doing mainly theory papers the first year and practice papers the following year.


Summative assessment.

Students will be encouraged to develop an Eportfolio. This will allow them to identify their own learning goals and to reflect on their learning. As part of this eportfolio students will develop a learning contract. They will be able to choose which skill they feel they would like to concentrate on for this learning contract. They will identify what prior knowledge they have of this skill. They will then identify their learning needs and expected outcomes. Together with the lecturer they will identify what they need to do and what resources they will need to be able to achieve their learning needs and finally they will provide evidence that they have accomplished this. This will form part of the summative assessment. The other assessment is a practice skills assessment where the students role play a scenario in examination conditions. Although this is not particularly flexible the students will be able to build the scenarios on which they may be tested themselves as a group. The performance indicators of communication will be assessed during this role play assessment. Women from the community will play the role of a woman and will provide the students with feedback on their communication and will also contribute the the mark the student is allocated for this skills. In addition there will be an examination which will be conducted during the final intensive where students will be tested on their knowledge of drug calculations.

Formative assessment:

A variety of formative assessments may be used to help with structure of the course material. This will also add interest to material the students are accessing at a distance and will help them to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Formative assessment should be closely linked to the skill which is being learned. It should stimulate the students interest and provide feedback which will stimulate further learning (Crossuard, Pryor & Torrance, 2000)

Communication strategies;

Students require good computer literacy skills to enable access to all the resources they will need for this course and also to communicate with each other and with lecturers. Students who need extra help will be supported with resources such as the Otago information literacy resource. Flexibility in
terms of communication will be assured through the opportunity to communicate in a variety of ways at times that are negotiated and suitable to all. Students will be able to engage with many of the online resources for communication at any time that suits them, for example discussion forums and preparing material for inclusion in Eportfolios.

Student to lecturer

Students will be able to maintain regular contact with lecturers online by email , through regular Elluminate group discussion, through participation in discussion forums online and by sharing parts of their Eportfolio work. They will also be able to communicate directly with the lecturer by telephone or by text messaging.

Students to midwifery practice facilitator

Students may be able to communicate with Midwifery practice facilitators through discussion forums and sharing part of their Eportfolio work. Students will be able to communicate regularly to face with the midwifery practice facilitator through on-site weekly tutorial group meetings, regular contact and catch ups while working with midwifery preceptors and during midwifery and other clinical practice placements.

Student to student

Students will be able to communicate with each other through online discussion forums, through sharing parts of their Eportfolio work and through contact during tutorial groups and face to face intensives. Students will be encouraged to develop close networks with other students to provide support and shared learning experience through a learning community (Kilpatrick, Barrett & Jones, 2008).

Midwifery practice facilitator to student

Midwifery practice facilitator will be located in the area where the student is practicing. They will be meeting face to face with students on a weekly basis and will negotiate with students individually around communication needs at other times. they will also have access and contribute to discussion forums and students Eportfolio work.

Lecturer to student

Lecturers will also be midwifery practice facilitators for some of the students in the class. They will maintain contact with the class through online discussion forums and email contact. They will also be able to communicate directly with students through cell phones and text messaging and during face to face in the intensives.

Information formats;

Students will be accessing course material through the Moodle learning management system. They will also be sharing information in groups through tutorials. They will be able to discuss and share information through discussion forums and through sharing learning through their Eportfolio work. Student learning will be enhanced through the use of quizzes which challenge the students and provide instant feedback. Learning packages will be developed and will be accessible online for

Standard precautions

Working with a sterile field

Medication administration

Urinary cathaterisation

Working with women with limited mobility

Basic knot tying and suture technique

These learning packages will be supported by group discussion in online discussion forums and during weekly tutorial group meetings. Some such as working with a sterile field, urinary catheterisation, and administering injections will be taught face to face and reinforced with the learning packages.

In addition a resource is being developed to run alongside which will support student learning about drug calculations. Students will also have access to open access freely available drug calculation software packages.

Learning support services including technical support.

Students will be supported by each others through the development of learning communities. They will also be supported by their midwifery practice facilitator and by midwife preceptors. They will have overarching learning support from their lecturers. They will also be supported by having constant access to learning materials online. Students who are have a disability and need extra support with this can access this through disability support services either at Otago Polytechnic or at Christchurch Polytechnic. All students will be made aware how they can access this support if they need it and lecturers will be aware of how students can access this support. Students who need extra support with literacy, numeracy or digital literacy will be given extra support through online resources which can assist them. Otago students can access learning support services on campus at Otago Polytechnic or through the various community centres maintained by Otago Polytechnic. Support with information technology systems will be provided through the IT services at Otago Polytechnic and Christchurch Polytechnic. Moodle help is available online through moodle.

The type of services which already exist that compliment and/or compete with the plan.

As this is a whole new way of delivering the programme there is a lot of development work to do. Not just te material I am working on but across the entire programme. Currently we use Blackboard as our learning management system so getting familiar with Moodle is a bit of a challenge. Transitioning to delivering more content online would lend itself to more content being available in an open forum. This is happening and is an exciting aspect of the new courses. We are using blip TV to store some video material which can then be linked into courses. Not only does this mean that the material is available for our own students but it will mean that it is also available for others. Existing course material has been developed for face to face teaching and so most needs major changes and updating and a lot of new material needs to be developed.

How complimentary or competitive services will be used favorably?

There is a great deal of material and learning resources which have developed by others and made freely available online for anyone to use. Some of these are suitable and will enhance the students learning experience. Some are excellent and would be very hard for us to replicate in any way. At the same time we will be developing some new learning resources which are not available or where those that are do not match our needs. It behooves us to make these freely available for others to use as we are using resources developed by others.

Outline of how the following items will be addressed:

Sustainability social, ecological and economical factors;

Sustainability will be addressed in the programme through a special course. It also needs to be integrated into all aspects of the program and will be addressed in the course work I am developing. Therapeutic skills involves the use and disposal of items which needs to be discussed with students as well as maintaining there own and their clients safety they also need to consider the impact on the environment of these items. No all women will need therapeutic intervention and how to keep the use of these interventions to a minimum will be addressed here and in other aspects of the course. We seem to be entering an era of greater awareness of personal, social and environmental impact of all our actions and it is likely that new resources will be developed which reduce the impact on the person society and the environment. It is important to keep abreast of these changes and students will be encouraged to identify how they can do this.

Access & equity;

I have little control over access. Students participating in this part of the course will be enrolled in the larger course. As stated above, resources are available online which will support student learning of this topic, we will also be developing resources which will be available online. I plan, over time, to build these into a structured format online that anyone anywhere can access. Therefore, although the entire course will not be available online, components which will enhance any midwifery students learning anywhere, will be.

Cultural diversity.

All students will be considered as autonomous individuals whose rights and values are respected. They will have obligations within the course to treat women as clients with the same respect.

How this plan aligns with Otago Polytechnics strategic direction

This new course, as part of the larger midwifery practice course aligns with the strategic direction.

Otago polytechnic is committed to providing relevant, flexible and accessible learning opportunities (p, 7). In addition it is committed to collaborating with other tertiary providers and organisation, (p, 13) (Otago polytechnic council). the flexible and multifaceted delivery of this course accessible in a variety of ways through a variety of resources and in collaboration with Christchurch Polytechnic, meets these objectives of the Polytecnic.


Atherton, J. S. (2005). Learning and Teaching: Experiential Learning [On-line] UK: Retrieved October 2, 2008 from:

Crossouard, B., Pryor, J. & Torrance, H. (2004). Creating an alternative assessment regime with oneline formative assessment: Developing a researcher identity. Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Crete, 22-25 September, 2004. Retrieved October 2, 2008 from

Gadotti, M. (1994) Reading Paulo Freire. His life and work, New York: SUNY Press.

Kilpatrick, S., Barrett, M., Jones, T. (2008). Defining learning communites. Faculty of education. University of Tasmania, Australia. Retrieved October 3, 2008 from:

Knowles, M. S. and Knowles, H. F. (1972) (Revised Edition) Introduction to Group Dynamics, Chicago: Association Press. published by New York: Cambridge Books.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development New Jersey: Prentice-Hall

Nichol, D. J., Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in higher education. 31 (2) 199-218. Retrieved October 2, 2008 from

Otago Polytechnic Council (2005). Charter document. Retrieved October 3, 2008, from://

Taylor, B. J. (2000). Reflective practice: A guide for nurses and midwives. London: Alyn and Unwin.


This is what I think the cost of this development work would be. Not the reality of how it will actually be.

Staff time

Lecturer time to develop course material

4 months at 0.3 FTE = $5,800

IT support to development work

4 months 0.3= $5800

Other IT support roughly $5000

Purchasing course material that isnot freely available such as Catherisation model


Total $18,600

As other course work is being developed at the same time these costs may be reduced in the overall development costs.


July 2008

Commence development of midwifery practice skills course in collaboration with CPIT.

Consider how the course will be framed and what it will look like overall.

August 2008

Course is now divided into four modules for development. Primary responsibility for these divided into two. Two for CPIT and two for OP.

Mid September 2008

Complete general framework of modules therapeutic skills and labour and birth (OP) and antenatal and postnatal (CPIT).

MId November 2008

Complete preparation of online content and structure of modules

November 2008

Seek feedback and evaluation of course material from current first year midwifery students and adjust as required.

January 2009

Finalise course and make final adjustments to structure, Elluminate sessions, content for face to face tutorials and intensives etc.

February 2009

New course begins pending final sign off.

As you will see this development is well underway now and we have been meeting all deadlines we have set to this point.

Flexible learning: it is not just about distance (Collins, Moonen, 2001)

This is a review and critique of readings (Collins & Moodie, 2001) for week one of the Designing for flexible learning practice course .

Learning to learn

Image from: Miffdesigners photos at

This reading outlines what is meant by the term “flexible learning” . This term is often confused with online learning or e-learning (Khan, 2005), although delivery may be a component of some courses delivered in a flexible manner it is only one of many ways in which flexibility can be achieved. Flexible learning is learner centred and allows students greater flexibility in their learning experience. Flexibility can be achieved in a variety of ways. Consideration can be given to flexibility of time for course work and timing of assessments. There may be flexibility in the content where a loose structure allows students to explore. There may be flexibility around the entry requirements for a course or how and when a course is delivered. Course material may also be delivered in a variety of flexible ways. The degree of flexibility that can be achieved in any course will be individual to the particular course and the expectations of outcomes for the students. Flexibility can provide increased opportunities for those who would otherwise find study difficult to achieve, those with young families who would find full time study difficult, those who are employed full or part time and are unable to attend regular classes or those who live at a distance from the place of learning (Collins, 2001). People with a particular disability may also find this type of study more do-able. Collins et al. suggest that the underlying factor governing the success of a flexibly delivered course is the culture and support of the institution. Various ways of making the content and processes of a course more flexible are discussed and also the restraints that may influence the degree of flexibility that can be achieved. A formula for is presented in chart form with x and y axes. X is the degree of flexibility and Y is the goal of the activities. The tighter the angle the less flexibility can be achieved, more of the course content is material delivered to and acquired by the student. The looser the angle the more flexibility can be achieved. In this instance learning occurs through participation and contribution to group learning and less is through material which is delivered. Acquisition therefore leads to less flexibility and participation leads to more flexibility. Knowles (1991) suggests that adult learners learn best by participating as opposed to passively acquiring information. Learners need a higher level of self motivation when participating in flexible learning. Some students may find the degree of self direction particularly challenging and may require individual strategies to help them achieve. Instructors in this type of course need to be responsive to the individual needs of students. Flexibility for the student also means flexibility for the instructor who may be able to also be more flexible in their working hours Collins et al suggest that the instructor could respond to students at any time, even at home with a cup of tea in hand. Greater flexibility for students is a challenge for institutions not only in the complexity of providing resources to enable greater flexibility but also in the challenge of supporting students and staff who feel that change is being forced on them and resist change. Staff may not be willing to be so flexible in their hours of work.

I am already familiar with many of the aspects of flexible delivery as our institution Otago Polytechnic have been moving towards greater flexibility in delivery of courses for several years now. Since I have been employed here, over the last 5 years, the School of Midwifery have made significant changes to the way the course is delivered and further major change is due to occur next year. We will be merging with Christchurch Polytechnic school of midwifery and working in an entirely new curriculum which has been developed over the last couple of years in consultation with Christchurch. This course will involve students living at a distance from the institution and a larger component of online delivery. We will retain face to face delivery of essential components of the course. A small core of staff from both schools have been working on the new curriculum but the hard work of putting this into action is just beginning now. In preparation for this I enrolled in Facilitating online learning communities and now this current course Designing for flexible learning practice. I am motivated, interested and keen to learn about technology and its use in supporting flexible learning for our students. I am not sure that this is so for all staff and I foresee many challenges ahead. As components of the course are being delivered online, currently through blackboard, some students have expressed concern and anxiety about the level of self directed learning involved. With support students have managed to cope and usually change their thinking about the online component. Students enrolling in a course where they understand a large proportion is delivered at a distance may have a different perspective and expectation. The added value to the student needs to be identified. At the moment I feel that the success or failure of this venture will rest heavily on the willingness of the staff to go the extra mile. I am concerned that there may be a presumption of cost saving in an exercise such as this, where in fact the evidence, including this reading, suggest it may actually cost more in financial terms (Collins et al, 2001)

I am also interested in making courses that we currently run for registered midwives more widely available through open access to the course material. I would like to see us offer greater support to midwifery in the developing world through access to open course material. To this end I have made contact with a midwife overseas and hope to be able to work on a joint venture in time which would see courses for continuing professional development for midwives being made available in open access format that will benefit midwives locally and internationally. I have established two midwifery wikis. One is more general information on midwifery and the profession and practice of the midwife and the other is a wiki supporting midwives collaborating in second life.


Collins, B., Moonen, J. (2001) Flexible learning in a digital world. Open and distance learning series. London: Kegan Page Ltd.

Khan, B.H. (2005). Learning features in an open, flexible, and distributed environment. AACE Journal, 13(2), 137-153.

Knowles, M. S. (1990). The adult learner: A neglected species. Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.