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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Activity Three; Investigating and describing examples of flexible learning.

For this activity I chose to interview a cookery lecturer/colleague in the hospitality department. We have collaborated and helped each other develop literacy and numeracy activities for our department's students and I have observed some of her flexible teaching techniques. 
My 8 yr old son had his teacher/parent interview a few weeks ago and as I sat in the classroom and took in the learning space it dawned on me that there was a very different style of teaching happening in this classroom.  It piqued my interest and I decided to interview my son's teacher.  The discussions that came out of these interviews have led me to understand that I am just seeing the tip of the iceberg in regards to the possibilities of flexible learning, and how if primary and secondary schools continue to develop in these areas then there will be a flow on effect to a greater extent in the tertiary system in the long run.  The Dimensions of flexibility grid (Collis and Moonen, 2004) formed the basis of the interviews, I will concentrate on instructional approach and resources, delivery and logistics to compare and contrast the 2 interviews.

My colleague is a lecturer on the certificate in basic cookery which is a 1 year full-time programme.  It is fixed in terms of start/finish dates and its criteria for entry is open.  Her over-riding philosophy when designing and teaching is that the students will learn by doing and by making mistakes.  The department has a commercial sector which incorporates a cafeteria, function department and coffee bar.  There is a fine dining restaurant which is open to the public and is run by the cookery and front of house students, under supervision. 

There are diagnostic tools used in the first few weeks to help the lecturers understand the learners; their abilities, learning styles and strengths/weaknesses.  The information from these assessments form the basis for the group set up, the lecturers understand the importance of analysing the group dimensions, using team building activities to strenghten the groups for working together in the kitchen.  However, Collis, B. & Moonen, J. (2001) argue, 'not all students need to work in groups, and not all students prefer social interaction as part of a learning experience.'  If the students course of study is towards a tourism/hospitality qualification surely the group interaction is beneficial to the students' overall social outcome, also working together as a team to produce a product or service is at the cornerstone of successful catering operations.

The students have access to course information through a number of forums, e.g. moodle, you-tube, on-line quizzes, class time.  The students have choices within the 'organisation of learning' where they can submit work in a variety of forms, through word processed, verbal or practical processes and have measurable assessment techniques in place to provide fair evaluations and feedback.

Contextualised teaching is used where possible, eggs are cracked open, smelt, whisked, cooked and examined to understand how they cook, when they have gone off and many other observations.  Videos on methods of cooking are used as teaching tools and downloaded onto moodle for the students to access at any time.
Reflection techniques are used continually to evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching, e.g. how well did it go? how can I improve? why didn't the student understand?

In comparison, the primary school classroom space has a major impact on the styles of learning that happen.  At the Otago Polytechnic there are limited choices surrounding the physical space that the students learn in, generic classrooms or kitchen/restaurant areas.  Rooms are used by many different courses and there is not the time to plan the lay out each time a class is in session.  In the primary school classroom there has been a year of planning how the spaces would be set out, based on recent research by Ewan McIntosh and his research into physical learning spaces The children have tote trays for their personal belongings, the desks have gone and there are different areas set up for different styles of working, e.g. standing areas,bean bags, swivel chairs, cushions, calculator desks, quiet spaces, learning caves, round tables.
The spaces are well planned with a clear vision from the teacher and collaboration with the children, the children spend the first week on an orientation programme to help them navigate their way through the new structure, there is daily discussion about why the child chose this particular space for their work. 
The children have a class blog, they share experiences with other schools on skype.  They have virtual learning networks and computerised maths tutorials.
The key to the success of this learning space management is how well it is managed on a daily basis, the children are encouraged to make choices about how they learn and where they choose to learn and have many options available to them.  In terms of delivery and logistics, this is a huge learning curve for the teacher and the pupils and the success has been in the careful planning and implementation (instructional approach) and the children have adapted to the changes in an extremely positive way.

Summary;  Instructional approach and resources and delivery and logistics for my colleague are flexible in the range of resources that are utilised and the extent of her experience in using those resources to engage all the unique and varied learning styles within her class.  Casey, J. & Wilson, P. (2005)explain the "danger of projecting an inappropriate learner model onto prospective students......of an autonomous, self motivated, confident, information technology(IT) literate and financially comfortable student". Many of the students require additional assistance in navigating their way through the education system.
The key to the success of the flexible learning spaces in the primary school classroom is the clear instructional goal the teacher has, her collaboration with the children in the set up and her communication with like minded colleagues in the virtual world of twitter and learning networks.


Casey, J., & Wilson, P. (2005).  A practical guide to providing flexible learning in further and higher education. Retrieved from

Collis, B., & Moonen, J. (2001).  Flexible learning in a digital world. Open and Distance Learning Series: Kogan Page Ltd.


  1. Two really good contrasting examples Helen. Your statement demonstrates the importance of context when it comes to the dimensions of flexibility: "If the students course of study is towards a tourism/hospitality qualification surely the group interaction is beneficial to the students' overall social outcome, also working together as a team to produce a product or service is at the cornerstone of successful catering operations".

    This example illustrates how important it is to be flexible - no one size fits all. Yes I agree, the school example of learning is much more learner-centred with the children 'owning' the learning space. I know some schools have tried to do that here - Design has dedicated spaces for their students as has midwifery and social services so it is happening gradually.

    What will you do to help your students to design and own their learning spaces?

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