Flexible learning: six new ideas

18th November 2013

Flexibility should be seen as a skill in its own right, rather than simply as an inclusive method of teaching in higher education

This is just one of the findings from the most recent report on flexible learning by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). Flexible pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas, also found that developments in information technology appear to have a dual, even contradictory, influence on learning and teaching innovation. Flexible learning initiatives that use IT to enable deeper changes to learning and teaching practice have far greater credibility with academic staff and therefore will achieve more traction for embedding change at an institutional level.

Central to the report, authors Dr Alex Ryan and Prof Daniella Tilbury from the University of Gloucestershire, identified six new pedagogical ideas that have cross-cutting significance for learning and teaching in the future of flexible higher education. The ideas were chosen for their potential to shape key attributes for higher education graduates and to inform future practice across the curriculum. The six ideas announced in the report published today are:

• Learner empowerment – actively involving students in learning development and processes of co-creation
• Future-facing education – enabling people to think critically, creatively and flexibly to generate alternative visions of the future
• Decolonising education – extending intercultural understanding and experiences of students so they can be sensitive to global ways of working
• Transformative capabilities – seeing capabilities not just as abilities but being able adapt a skill to be used in both familiar and unfamiliar circumstances
• Crossing boundaries – to support interdisciplinary, interprofessional and cross-sectoral learning
• Social learning – developing cultures and environments for learning that harness the emancipatory power of spaces and interactions outside the formal curriculum, particularly through the use of new technologies and co-curricular activities.

One programme already to have made inroads in the six new pedagogical ideas is education for sustainable development (ESD). The report highlights how each of the new ideas has been integrated into ESD learning and teaching, which is now visible worldwide at all levels of education, equipping people to respond to critical global scenarios by envisioning alternative futures and implementing change.

Such institution-wide initiatives pose challenges to higher education due to the extensive range of stakeholders and their perspectives. New pedagogical ideas highlights the need therefore for an extended period of experimentation and consultation to ensure change can be integrated into the institution's mission.

Prof Stephanie Marshall, chief executive of the HEA, said: "Flexible learning is one of higher education's key areas of development. While previous research has concentrated on the practicalities of providing flexible learning, this report takes the concept of flexibility and flexible learning to another level, seeing flexibility as an attribute our students can use in their future careers and everyday lives.

"I am eager to see where this report, and its six new pedagogical ideas, can lead our educators and our students over the coming years. As our student base becomes more diverse, and as we strive to provide our students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in an increasingly competitive and global economy, this report could open the door to significant changes in the way we develop flexible learning and our curricula in the future."

The report is being launched this week at the HEA research and policy webinar/seminar series. Over 100 delegates will hear from its authors, as they discuss the findings.

The report is part of the HEA's 'Flexible pedagogies: preparing for the future' series which focuses on key flexible learning themes. The overarching final series report by Professor Ron Barnett will be published in Summer 2014.

This article is from the Higher Education Academy on the Guardian Professional Network. It can be viewed in full at https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-hea-partner-zone/1
Flexible learning: six new ideas image #1