Flexible Learning: Technology-Enhanced Learning

Source: The Higher Education Academy (HEA)
Source: The Higher Education Academy (HEA)

This is the sixth in a short series of posts on the work undertaken by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on flexible learning.

Background

The report on technology-enhanced learning (TEL) (Gordon, 2014) is the fourth (and final) in a short series of complementary reports from the HEA that go under the banner of “flexible pedagogies”. The report is guided by the HEA’s overarching research question:

Why and to what extent might flexible pedagogies be promoted, and in what ways?

The report considers the role of information and communications technology (ICT) and information technology (IT) through the three “main dimensions” of flexible learning that supports pace (e.g. accelerated and decelerated degrees), place (e.g. work-based learning and employer engagement), and mode of learning (e.g. blended learning).

Whilst the report is suggestive of the opportunities that technology could bring to flexible provision, it was also mindful that it could generate new dilemmas for institutions, with fresh issues around collaborative learning, plagiarism and the resource implications of allowing such choices.

Levels of Flexibility

Complementing the three “main dimensions” of flexible learning, the report (Gordon, 2014) suggests three “levels of flexibility” which are a mix of philosophical and practical perspectives. These are articulated in the following way:

  • ontological – the flexibility of the students themselves, such as how flexible they are to deal with different learning approaches as well as the wider context around them that affect their studies and their future development;
  • pedagogical – theories and delivery of learning in terms of the flexibility of the teaching, its approaches and modes; and
  • systems – how institutional structures and processes allow for flexibility in teaching (pedagogy) and learning (ontology).

Similarly these “levels” can be viewed as both opportunities and challenges to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) who want to adopt a flexible TEL approach.

Examples of TEL

The report offers a number of examples of how learning technologies are enabling learning, teaching and assessment. These include:

  • team projects, group work and peer assessment;
  • balancing and utilising formative and summative assessments when using computer aided assessment;
  • adopting e-submission and providing informative and timely e-feedback; and
  • applying new approaches to engage and motivate students.

However, as noted in the HEA Flexible Learning Pathfinders project, whilst learning technologies can be an enabler for greater flexibility in learning; there are other ways in which flexibility could be introduced that was not necessarily dependent on a technological solution (Outram 2011).

Technology-Enabled Models

The report describes a range of approaches to learning that are significantly dependent on technology. These include:

  • personalised learning – tailoring the learning experience to an individual student’s needs and desires;
  • support for synchronous and asynchronous activities – the former representing activities done in real time with immediate interaction (e.g. webinar), the latter those done over a period of time (e.g. discussion board);
  • flexible learning – similar to personalised but with a greater focus on how the material adapts to an individual’s progress, and may include adaptive/flexi-level testing;
  • gamification – the use of game techniques (especially game mechanics) to encourage and motivate activities can be especially relevant to learning;
  • online learning – the use of Internet-based TEL to deliver content that supports anytime, anywhere, anyplace characteristics; and
  • blended learning – a mix of physical/real-world interaction complemented by virtual/digital-world interaction.

The report acknowledges that whilst the above list is not exhaustive, it does indicate those areas that can provide scalable and pragmatic solutions. By way of a conclusion, the report recognises that the fundamental learning and teaching activities are “not altered”; that is accessing concepts and ideas, assimilating these through practice and ultimately demonstrating mastery. What technology offers, the report’s author notes, is scalability, flexibility and new ways of learning.

References

Gordon, N. (2014). Flexible Pedagogies: Technology-Enhanced Learning. York, England: The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/flexible-pedagogies-technology-enhanced-learning [Accessed 17.3.2015].

Outram, S. (2011). Final Evaluation of the HEFCE-funded Flexible Learning Pathfinder Projects. York, England: The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/node/3527 [Accessed 17.3.2015].

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