Universities and colleges must ensure that students have the information they need to make informed choices about what, where and how they want to study. We will aim to support a higher education sector with a diverse and flexible range of provision, embracing all academic disciplines and building further on the wide range of qualifications currently available through full- or part-time study and accelerated learning.
'A broad description of flexible learning is it is an approach to university education which provides students with the opportunity to take greater responsibility for their learning and to be engaged in learning activities and opportunities that meet their own individual needs. Tomlinson and Kilner (1991) argue that flexible learning emphasises adaptation to the various learning needs of students and the promotion of their learning autonomy, within a framework of appropriate support.
Beyond that, however, flexible learning as a concept can have many different meanings to different individuals. The terms open learning, distance learning and flexible learning are often used synonymously.
Open learning is a term used to describe courses flexibly designed to meet individual requirements. Lewis and Spencer (1986) explain that ‘it is often applied to provision which tries to remove barriers that prevent attendance at more traditional courses but it also suggests a philosophy’.
Distance learning, although possessing similar characteristics, implies geographical distance between the learner and the providing institution. Usually the learning occurs with the aid of self-study packaged materials which may include video tapes or computer software.
CSUP (1992) has claimed that the broad term flexible learning has been used as a banner under which to promote a shift from formal, whole-class didactic teaching towards individual or group management of learning. This is achieved through the provision by the tutor of structured resource materials together with opportunities for the negotiation of tasks, self- and peer-assessment and collaborative group work. Although labelling the approach ‘flexible learning’ helps to bring out the logical priority of learning and the goal of student autonomy, the approach is clearly concerned with assisting that learning and promoting that autonomy. The development of any form of flexible learning therefore requires a strong framework of support and guidance for the student from the outset. This support cannot just be provided by the tutor but must be part of an institutional support structure which provides for the student’s learning needs. The flexible learning framework (TVEI, 1991) lists as a main institutional implication that clear and easily accessed learner support frameworks must be in place to provide appropriate support for students to take on increased responsibility.'
'The Higher Education Academy (HEA) believes that flexible learning is about empowering students by offering them choices in how, what, when and where they learn: the pace, place and mode of delivery.
* How: offering a choice of studying face-to-face, online, or through a blended approach;
* What: providing personalising learning approaches with a supported range of study options, enabling students to design programmes according to their needs and aspirations;
* When: building a programme structure that assists choice of when to study, fitting it around work and home life; and choice about the intensity of their study, from full-time and accelerated, to part-time and at a slower pace, with opportunities for pace to vary, during a programme, and to take intermissions as required;
* Where: facilitating opportunities for students to study in locations of their choice; this might be home, work-based or overseas.
Flexible learning requires a balance of power between institutions and students, and seeks to find ways in which choice can be provided that is economically viable and appropriately manageable for institutions and students alike.'
Flexible learning concerns institutions constructing and continually evaluating infrastructure, policies and practices that offer the widest possible opportunity for successful engagement and belonging of all stakeholders in higher education.