Thursday, 3 April 2008

Week 4: How can distance, correspondence and/or online learning create flexible learning opportunities in your context?

We are currently teaching mathematics to one distance stream of students. 7 weeks down, we lost almost 1/3 of them. Most of them are out of town students or they are local but could not get into the normal class, distance learning seems to be their only option. As Rumble and Latchem (2004) stated that distance education has decreased as traditional campuses move to reduce costs, but it also reduces the ability to respond to individual student needs.

Design for flexible learning can be done through online learning and I am obliged by this arrangement. My timetable is extremely full Monday to Wednesday, so I normally do all my reading and blogging from Thursday on. The research we have to do or the question we have to answer for this course has no right or wrong answer; we are just speaking freely about our minds, sharing our thoughts and being supportive to each other. However, to my point of view, not all courses can be run 100% through distance or correspondence. Peters (2004) suggested that with an increasing emphasis on digitized instructional material, learning can be more autonomous and self-directed. But are the learners ready to be self-contained with their own study? Now some of the students cannot work with rigid timetables or meet the deadlines under instructor’s supervision, what is it going to be like without it?

All this time, we are doing the best we can to create this flexible learning environment to meet the student’s demands, because they have to work to cover their living costs or they have a family to look after. But what do students think about our effort? I just happened to chat to my students one day after class; they said they paid almost five grand on tuition this year. As a full time student, only 9 classes were scheduled per week. They think it is a huge rip off. Maybe polytechnic should make “flexible learning” a compulsory paper for every student too, get them out of their “spoon-fed” habit, really see how they will be benefit from being a flexible learner.


Bronwyn hegarty said...

Michelle you ask some very important questions in your post around whether students are ready to be self-directed, and while they need flexibility so they can fit in study with life commitments - are they actually ready to do without "rigid timetables"?

I agree with your suggestion that students do need to learn how to be a flexible learner and self-directed. We tend to take it for granted which is a mistake.

It appears your distance course does have a high drop-out rate - 1/3 - any ideas why - is it their inability to be self-directed or other factors as well?

I agree with you about the expectations of students about full-time courses, e.g, the expectation that the hours when they attend classes is all the learning they need to do in a course, and their inability to be self-directed.

What sort of package would you put together for your students to teach them how to be FLers?

Michelle Liu said...

I am not directly in charge with the distance stream, but from conversation with my colleagues, the reason for a high drop out rate is possibly the combination of incapability of computer skills and as you said Bronwyn, inability of self-direct learning.

What sort of package would you put together for your students to teach them how to be FLers? Hmm…when I first saw this, I thought, maybe I have dug a hole for myself to jump in. I have two thoughts so far. First of all, we have to let the students see how they will benefit from being a flexible learner (e.g. maybe education providers can consider reducing the cost of their tuition, because classroom and some amenities are no longer permanently required). Secondly, bring students computer skill up to standard (we shall leave this to the Q4U people, as they have more success than anyone else on flexible learning)