Flexible Learning: The Summit

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

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


The HEA organised a Flexible Learning Summit in Leeds on 31 October and 1 November 2011. The summit brought together practitioners from across the Higher Education (HE) sector in the United Kingdom (UK) who had experience of innovative practice of different flexible learning provisions.

The purpose of the summit was to enable practitioners to identify the key enablers and barriers to the “main dimensions” of flexible learning; and to ascertain whether there were any inter-related issues that were common across the “main dimensions” that could be strategically addressed at institutional and national policy levels. The conclusions and recommendations from the summit were set out in a report (Tallantyre, 2011).

Defining ‘Flexibility’

It had already been noted in the final Flexible Learning Pathfinders (FLP) report (Outram, 2011) that definitions of flexible learning tended to “vary and are often too general or nebulous”. The HEA chose to “define flexible learning in terms of offering students choice in the pace, place and mode of learning”. Thus, the three “main dimensions” of flexible learning are:

  • Pace – This encapsulates such issues as accelerated and decelerated programmes; part-time learning; recognition of prior learning (i.e. APEL); and associated use of credit frameworks.
  • Place – Although this is mainly concerned with work-based learning (WBL), it can include the role of private providers of higher education; Further Education (FE) provision; and recognition that technology-enabled learning (TEL) can enable flexibility across national and international boundaries.
  • Mode of Learning – This is concerned with the role of learning technologies in enhancing flexibility and enriching the student experience. It also encapsulates distance learning (DL), blended learning (BL) as well as synchronous and asynchronous modes of learning.

The report (Tallantyre, 2011) acknowledged that the three “main dimensions” of flexible learning were informed by the need to ensure that learning was “responsive to the requirements and choices of an increasingly diverse and demanding body of learners” and were “driven by the requirements and preferences of learners or sponsors of learning (e.g. employers)”.

The Summit’s Recommendations

Informed by the various barriers and enablers to flexible learning provision that was identified during the course of the summit, a set of fourteen recommendations for actions were proposed by the Summit delegates. Their recommendations are directed to government and funding bodies, national bodies, and senior institutional managers to consider and act upon. These recommendations included:

  • the development of new funding frameworks that take in to account of credits delivered rather than years of study;
  • encouraging national bodies like UCAS, HEA, QAA and JISC to collaborate to produce evidence-based guides for potential learners and institutional staff on flexible learning provision;
  • the HEA to support the development of higher education continued professional development (CPD) programmes to promote best practices in flexible provision which is aligned to the UK Professional Standards Framework;
  • senior managers encouraged to lead on effective resource allocation, review roles and workload implications, and prompt the development of appropriate frameworks and policies which support reward and recognition in the delivery of flexible learning.


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].

Tallantyre, F. (2011). Flexible Learning Summit Report. York, England: The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/flexible-learning/Flexible_Learning_Summit_Report [Accessed 17.3.2015].