Flexible Learning: New Pedagogical Ideas

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

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


The report on new pedagogical ideas (Ryan & Tilbury, 2013) is the third 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 relationship between flexibility and pedagogy in terms of core purposes and modes of participation for teaching and learning in Higher Education (HE). Flexible provision has the potential to open up more democratic and emancipatory approaches to learning and teaching, which can be “obscured by technological ‘mist’” (Ryan & Tilbury, 2013:4).

New Pedagogical Ideas

Following an extensive literature review and consultation with key informants involved in HE teaching and learning, the report’s authors develop the following six “new pedagogical ideas”:

  1. learner empowerment – actively involving students in learning development and processes of ‘co-creation’ that challenge current learning relationships and the power frames that underpin them (cfPartners in Learning’);
  2. future-facing education – an educational vision concerned with enabling people to think critically, creatively and flexibly about future prospects, to generate alternative visions of future possibilities, to initiate action in pursuit of those visions (cfFutures Initiatives’);
  3. decolonising education – concerned with deconstructing dominant pedagogical perspectives which promote singular worldviews to extend the inter-cultural understanding and experiences of students (cf ‘Internationalisation’, ‘Inclusive Curriculum’);
  4. transformative capabilities – creates an educational focus beyond an emphasis solely on knowledge and understanding towards agency and competence, towards more engaged approaches to learning;
  5. crossing boundaries – taking an integrative and systemic approach to pedagogy in HE, to generate inter-disciplinary, inter-professional and cross-sectoral learning to maximise collaboration and shared perspectives; and
  6. social learning – developing cultures and environments for learning to harness the emancipatory power of spaces and interactions outside the formal curriculum, can draw upon new technologies and co-curricular activities (cfAugustine House’).

The six new pedagogical ideas identified by the authors were selected on the basis of four key considerations:

  • they are geared towards the ‘bigger picture’ and future strategic innovation in the curriculum;
  • they are ‘novel’ in the sense that they are not commonly practiced across HE;
  • they demonstrate pedagogical concern with ‘flexibility’ in their focus on enabling learners to anticipate; and
  • they aim to reposition education, by making use of democratic and inclusive learning practices and drawing on pedagogies that can support change and innovation.

Concluding Remarks

In framing their conclusion, the report’s authors recognised that in order for HE to deliver flexible provision, it needed to acknowledge that both tutor and learner needed flexibility across several levels to be able to address societal, economic and environmental issues in an increasingly globalised world (GUNI 2011).

It should be borne in mind that these six new pedagogical ideas are not limited to the confines of a classroom or learning context, but are able to refresh and revitalise the pedagogy of the institution and the HE system as a whole to gain traction across different subjects and in terms of the broader university learning experience. The authors note that there are potential links between the flexibility in the learner and the flexibility in the pedagogies, links that can only come to light through the tutor and their approach to the “learning dynamic”. There are also opportunities to expand scholarship to explore at conceptual, empirical and theoretical levels how these new pedagogies are posited within the flexible learning discourse. However, they are mindful that:

…not all of these efforts bring democratisation and empowerment into the learning process, or foster adaptability and inclusivity in learners and educators – attributes which will be at the heart of any ‘flexible pedagogy’ in future HE that is worthy of the label. (Ryan & Tilbury, 2013:31)


GUNI. (2011). Higher Education in the World 4: Higher Education’s Commitment to Sustainability: from Understanding to Action. Barcelona, Spain: Global Universities Network for Innovation (GUNI).

Ryan, A. & Tilbury, D. (2013). Flexible Pedagogies: New Pedagogical Ideas. York, England: The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/flexible-pedagogies-new-pedagogical-ideas [Accessed 17.3.2015].