Education is a broadly debated topic, now there is a new concept emerging, ’flexible learning’. This essay will discuss what is understood by this term and how it could affect the way of the future in education. Furthermore it will discuss how flexible learning has engaged technology and how it has made education more accessible and equitable. Next it will demonstrate how individual students have benefited through the use of technology with flexible learning, and how students are able to be the central focus of their own education.
Technology brings with it many advantages for the future of education, however not without some setbacks, this essay will also discuss these. This essay will argue that because of the increasing accessibility and improvements in technology, flexible learning should be the way of the future in education. Flexible learning is quickly becoming the way of the future for education, as it engages and implements the use of sophisticated technology. According to George and Luke (cited in Andrews & Ferman 2001) flexible learning is a multi-directional approach to learning using different methods of delivery.
On the other hand, Nunan (cited in Andrews & Ferman 2001, p. 2) considers that ‘flexible delivery is often taken to mean the same thing as increasing flexibility in learning’. Summarising Harmes (2010) explains flexible learning engages technology, allowing the use of the internet, e-mail, and other digital interactive technology. It also allows the student to freely access online lectures and study material and more importantly it enables teachers to position the student as the central focus of the learning experience.
This can be seen at universities including the relatively new University of Queensland campus at Ipswich who are using technology to promote flexible learning. It was in fact the purpose built with this in mind; and included computer rooms, a self-directed learning centre and even wireless laptops (Andrews&Ferman 2001). Another example of flexible learning is discussed by Huijser, Bedford and Bull (2008) who describe the Tertiary Preparation Program (TPP); this is a course which is accessed online and on-campus.
TPP students can engage in online lectures, Wimba classrooms and forums, study material can also be submitted online and feedback returned to student, again online. Using technology students have engaged in flexible learning all over Australia, including international students. Furthermore TPP is currently funded by the government making it free; this allows students to prepare for higher study prior to investment. The outcome of this should be a higher intake of fee paying students, which in turn should lead to increased government funding for universities.
Flexible learning through technology has made education more accessible and therefore equitable. Harmes (2010) discusses how the internet has increased the number of students to able to study degrees through online study material and lectures. As a result of technological advances the world has become a “global village “and students can participate in a global classroom. Worldwide opportunities using technology and flexible learning should be funded locally (Zhao 2009).
Ultimately this will enable there to be proximity through distance, and will allow students to study anytime and anywhere, thus making education more equitable explains Harmes (2010). There are students from as far away as remote Western Australia studying through the University of Southern Queensland (USQ). They are able to access all the lectures and tutorials online, and USQ plans to offer many more academic programs online by 2012 (The Chronicle 2009). ‘Technology is the tool used to provide a facility for a teacher facilitated, learner centred environment’ (Bonanno, 2005).
It is only through the many improvements and advances in technology that education has been so accessible and with it flexible learning has been implemented. Flexible learning has made education more accessible because, study is teacher facilitated and enables the student to be positioned as the central focus of education. According to Harmes there are many benefits of flexible learning, students are able to access their study any time they like, and this means that they are able to co-ordinate study around work and family life.
The flexibility that technology provides has enabled students to study at their own pace (Andrews& Ferman, 2001). Additionally students have a sense of freedom with their study, slotting it in whenever they please. Knowles (cited in Choy and Delahaye 2002) researched how adult learners are more likely to be motivated and experienced in life, and that they are ready to embrace learning with deeper appreciation and understanding. Knowles (1973) continues by discussing how this self-driven learning is assisted through flexible delivery and how students benefit from a mature independent approach to education with the option for teacher help when needed.
As a result of this Bonanno suggests that with good self-discipline and time management students are able to have freedom and access to study anytime and place, thus enabling many styles of learning. Technology has increased the flexibility that students have, thus allowing greater access to education. Despite the fact that education has embraced technology, there are still some problems which must be resolved. According to Ralston (1999) it appears that although many have embraced technology for learning, there are still many who are either too afraid to or do not have the skills and confidence to do so.
Furthermore he suggests that that those who do not attempt to engage technology will be severely disadvantaged, because the twenty-first century is the age of technology. Andrews and Ferman (2000) noted on their study of the University of Queensland, -Ipswich campus that many students found the course material limited, that there was a lack of structure, and there were also a significant number of technical difficulties.
Additionally Bonanno (2005) discusses some of the disadvantages of technology and states that the learner can easily lose motivation partly due to a lack of classroom spirit and teacher facilitated learning. Technology can be out of date or difficult to understand and often it can be confusing and sometimes it can just be that there is no technical support available. Bonanno’s (2005) comments that many problems occurring are learner related and that in order to be successful the learner must be self-motivated and have a reasonable degree of self-competency.
She also comments that the facilitator or teacher must be motivated as well and be able to produce engaging study material for the student to work with; they must also be able to direct, listen and support students. Despite some complications, changes in technology help to make sure education is more accessible and equitable. Universities are able to capture larger numbers of students enabling more funding from the government. Students are able to be in control of their own education pathway and are able to be flexible about when and where they choose to study.
Students can also choose to study gregariously in online classrooms and even traditional classrooms. Problematic areas will in time be improved as technology upgrades on a daily basis; including faster internet options. With this evolving technology people’s knowledge and experience will increase and in time student numbers and study options will grow. It is realistic that flexible learning will be and indeed should be the way of the future in education and that there will be a worldwide classroom.
References Andrews, T & Ferman, T 2001, ‘The flexible learning experience – how good is it really? ’ in L Richardson & J Lidstone (eds), Flexible learning for a flexible society, pp. 39-45. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA http://www. aset. org. au/confs/aset-herdsa2000/procs/andrews-t. html. Bonanno, K 2005, ‘Online learning : the good the bad and the ugly’, Proceedings of the XIX Biennial Conference – Meeting the Challenge, Australian School Library Association, Zillmere, QLD, pp.
1-7 Choy, SC & Delahaye, BL 2002, ‘Andragogy in vocational education and training: learners’ perspective’, Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Conference, Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association (AVETRA), Melbourne, VIC University of Southern Queensland 2009, ‘University offers online options to its students’, The Chronicle, 10 Jul, p. 41. Collis, B & Moonen, J 2002, Flexible learning in a digital world: experiences and expectations, Kogan Page, London, UK, pp. 8-10,17,26-27.
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