Designing for Flexibility

Designing for flexibility

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[CC FlickR image by Ivars Krutainis]


Designing for flexibility is not about starting from scratch or rejecting what has worked well for you and your learners until now. It IS about investigating new possibilities - strategies, tools and resources - to enrich your practice and to add flexibility to better meet the needs of learners and clients in today's changing environment. We have never been in a better position to do so.

A wide range of free or cheap, easy to master and use technologies are available. These tools and technologies, and the resources created with them enable students to learn and connect with others regardless of circumstance, learning preference, needs, interests and skills.

As educators our job is to identify and negotiate how learning will best take place for a given learner and course, and to design strategies and activities to suit. In a course where learners are geographically dispersed this will utilise different modes and media but the focus and outcome will be the same.

Throughout this topic we will be exploring a range of issues and opportunities relating to flexible design and preparing our learners to learn online. The topic will culminate in an end-to-end thinking process for designing online learning activities.

During the DFF program we will be using a combination of tools to enable flexibility of your learning – this wiki, webinars, blog posts and the DFF Facebook group. Be prepared to critically reflect upon your personal learning experience and engagement in these tools.
Remember: Design is an iterative process. Have some fun immersing as a learner and designing as a teacher. Be sure to evaluate and refine you learning designs as your knowledge and experience grows.

What do we mean by 'flexible' learning and teaching?

One of the questions we asked individuals in our Thought Leaders series was what they understood by 'Designing for Flexibility'.
Their responses were as diverse as they were!
Reflection: What does flexible learning and teaching mean to you? Be prepared to discuss your thoughts during the webinar or in the DFF Facebook group.

Evaluating current practice

With a clear picture of what flexibility means and an understanding of the context in which you operate, your task is to evaluate current practices.
What criteria would you consider for evaluating the suitability and effectiveness of current strategies based on what we know about learning design and contemporary learning theory.

Reflection task

Focus on a successful VET course you have run face to face that demonstrates good practice and achieves positive outcomes for learners.
What happens in that learning environment? How are the learners engaged?
Do you think about:
  • student satisfaction
  • the recognition of existing skills and strengths
  • clear presentation of key concepts
  • a means to revisit content and practice and apply new knowledge and skills
  • a clear incremental program and ‘chunked’ content
  • opportunities for reflection and to build past experiences
  • allowing adjustments or negotiating tasks to cater for varying interests or needs
  • consideration of the AQF level and literacy level of the learners
  • scaffolds and support mechanisms
  • opportunities to transfer knowledge, modifying and adapting to suit new contexts
  • opportunities for collaboration and interaction with teachers, peers and industry experts
  • multimodal means for engagement
  • opportunities for critical thinking and problem solving
  • opportunities for authentic assessment

All this (and more!) is possible as you integrate technology to enable more flexible engagement.

Instructional design principles

Underpinning all flexible delivery decisions should be sound instructional design.
In designing an e-learning pathway for a student or group of students the choices made will be determined not only by philosophical approach but also the nature of what is being learned.
Typically a course of study will involve a wide range of teaching and learning approaches from instruction to practice to adaptation, and from personal reflection to group interaction.
Visit the Learning Design wiki where we are developing guides and scenarios to support good design.

The key is to remain focused on the learners and on the desired business outcomes.

Folio preparation
  1. Identify a section of a course (topic area or cluster of Units) that you would like to focus on.
  2. Visit our Learning Design wiki and take time to consider the changing nature of your learner cohort and the context in which you operate.
  3. Reflect on the strengths of the existing course. What has worked well? What do students say they enjoy most?
  4. Reflect on the areas of the course that don't work so well. Where are the gaps? Where do some students struggle? Who doesn't the course support/ reach? What cries out for change?
  5. Consider the Learning Processes wheel - where does your emphasis lie now? How do you achieve each type of engagement in a face to face setting? On reflection, to what extent could you shift your emphasis?
  6. Use the Online Learning Activity Planning template to plan your next online activity end-to-end. We will be discussing the template at this topic webinar.

Background readings

Designing and facilitating online learning part 1

In part 1 video Alison Bickford explore some fundamentals of teaching and learning online, learning platforms, and designing content for online learning.

Designing and facilitating online learning Part 2

In part 2 Alison Bickford covers the topics of writing questions and assessing online learning activities. The video series will culminate in a series of questions to help teachers design an online learning activity end-to-end.

Teaching skills for 21st century educators - Andrew Churches
Learning Design tool - AFLF 2010
Learning by design - Denice Ward Hood, William Cope and Mary Kalantzis
New pedagogies for a digital age - slideshare presentation by Steve Wheeler
Five Stage Model - Gilly Salmon
Also refer to the wiki 'Support sites' listed in the left navigation column

Additional supporting information

Learning styles: understanding your learning preference

Pashler H. McDaniel M Doug Rohrer D. and Bjork R. (2009), A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, "Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence", December 2009 (Vol. 9, No. 3)

Technology based learning - problematising VET students readiness and preferences - Ian Robertson (2007)

AFLF Design E-learning guide

Diigo Group tagged resources



Relevant Thought Leader Series interviews

Relevant TAFE NSW eHub eCommunities


The activities and documented reflections for this topic provide useful partial evidence for:
TAEDES505A: evaluate a training program
TAEDES501A: design and develop learning strategies