For a large institution, selecting a flexible learning software platform is a major undertaking, requiring careful consideration of many factors. Such a process can seem like overkill, however, when a smaller-scale development is planned. For example, one or more teachers in an institution might decide to pilot an online learning component as an action-research project. Or a small provider might decide to ‘put their toe in the water’ with flexible learning. From my experience, the people involved in such projects need some guidance but are not prepared to undertake a full needs analysis and evaluation process.
I started putting together the Flexible Learning Planning Guide for just these sorts of situations. It’s informed by my own work and also by research such as Chickering and Gamson’s 7 Principles, which I’ve found very useful as a framework for developing teaching and learning.
I believe there’s a need for something like this to complement the sorts of rigorous development processes called for in models such as the eLearning Maturity Model: not because they are not valid but because small-scale projects sometimes just need a bit of guidance to get started.
The guide is based around pedagogical processes rather than software features. And I deliberately left out many aspects of good practice because I wanted to keep the list short – it currently comprises just ten practices and I’ve had to resist the temptation to add to this. For example, I’ve deliberately left out any practices relating to assessment as that is often excluded from such ‘first steps’ projects because it’s such a high stakes component.
The guide reflects my interest in constructivist approaches to learning and the use of tools such as blogs and wikis. It also avoids providing a simple checklist of features – because good practice doesn’t arise automatically from software features, but from how effectively they are used.