Saturday, May 23, 2009

My experiences of flexible learning

I attended an online discussion about flexible learning last week as part of the Flexible Learning Course I am taking. And it came to me that it would be useful for me to reflect on my own experiences of flexible learning as a student before I jumped in with deciding what other people want or should have.

Choosing my own project

My first experience of flexible learning was when I was studying for my undergraduate honors degree in health studies back in the late 1990s. I was able to choose to write up a project that I had carried out, as opposed to taking a set paper/course.

The advantage of this was that I was able to incorporate work that I was already doing into my course, which I believe is a vital strategy for flexible learning. It saved me time, and allowed me to think about work that meant something to me, as opposed to inflecting assessment on me that had no value to me.

Support and criteria
But I didn't do very well for the assessment ie in the writing up of the project. The project itself was extremely successful, but I didn't score a very high grade when I wrote it up because I did not properly address the criteria of the assessment.

I have always thought since that experience, that it is all well and good giving students choice, and 'allowing' them to do their own thing or make up their up assessment. But educators must support students when they take that approach to assessment, ensuring the students properly understand what outcomes they need to achieve and how the outcomes relate to their own particular project.

If you do not do that, I believe you set students up for failure.

Giving students freedom
I had a similar experience of flexible learning last year when I did the Design and Construction Course. Again, I did not quite follow the prescripted pathway of the course, but was encouraged to do my own exploration, and complete assessments that suited my own learning context.

This time, my experience was very positive. I was very well supported by the course outline, with lots of guidance and help with how I could do what I wanted to do yet meet the course outcomes. The result was that I learned a lot, passed the course and found the whole experience to be an extremely positive and constructive one. The assessments met my own personal needs as opposed to being there for the sake of it, causing me grief and making me do something that has absolutely no relevance to my learning.

Relevance of assessment
I'll be the first to admit that there are plenty of times that educators give students assessments that seem to have no relevance to the student at the time. What they actually doing is building a foundation for the student to go on with in the future. And there are other times when the student does not understand that the assessment has relevance for the future, not necessarily for the 'here and now' ie students lack the 'big picture' that the educators can see. So the student has to 'trust the process'- as I was always very fond of saying to my undergraduate midwifery students.

But as educators, I think it is vital that we look at our assessments and check out their appropriateness and relevance. Are we making student take assessments for the sake of it? What do the assessments add to the students' learning? How can the assessments be made 'flexible' to suit individual students' needs within the constraints of mandated course outcomes?

Can you think of an example of a course you took part in that was flexible and tailored to your individual learning needs? What aspect of the course did you like and what aspect did not work for you?

Image: 'zone5' SideLong

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