Volume 18 Digital Issue
The Age of Flexible Learning
by Osbert Bryan T. Villasis
It was March of 2020 when classes in the Philippines were suspended because of COVID-19. Because of this, many schools in the country shifted to an online modality of teaching and learning. Worldwide, schools converted their traditional classrooms into virtual classrooms using online communication platforms.
To ensure learning continuity despite the pandemic, most schools implemented flexible learning. It allows a combination of open and distance learning and blended learning where teachers provide lectures and tasks synchronously and asynchronously. Synchronous sessions involve but are not limited to live online discussions, live chat or instant messaging, live polling, live audio/video presentations, and simultaneous quizzes. On the other hand, asynchronous sessions include discussion boards, self-paced reading of digital documents, viewing of open educational resources (OERs), a self-paced study of learning packets, and answering quizzes at a specified time.
In flexible learning, the interaction between teachers and students may be done purely online, purely offline, or a combination of both. This modality is inclusive, as it allows learning continuity regardless of the students’ access to the internet, gadgets, and other resources. Flexible learning ensures that knowledge acquisition and skills development are unhampered despite the pandemic.
Although flexible learning is not new, the pandemic hastened the needed change in education delivery mode. The table below shows some of the main changes in education before and during the pandemic.
The implementation of flexible learning has introduced many challenges to teachers, like the need to revise curriculum guides and course study plans, and to prepare modules and learning packets. As flexible learning will be the new normal in education, here are some notes that will make its implementation less painful:
1. Learning Experience Design. There is no one-size-fits-all curriculum in flexible learning. Design the course study plans and curriculum guides based on the most essential learning competencies, institutional learning outcomes, and delivery time. Teachers should make sure that the learning guides and course materials are bite-sized, simple, and can be self-learned. Reducing the topics to be taken in class does not necessarily mean compromising the quality of learning. Adjust and recalibrate course study plans whenever necessary.
2. Learning Modality Delivery Approaches and Strategies. While flexible learning allows the teacher to deliver instruction remotely, it also considers the learners’ needs and resources. This approach allows learners to complete the materials of the course at their own pace. Teachers should provide learners with the time and facility to ask their questions. Discussion boards, messaging platforms, or forums may be used for this.
In synchronous instruction, making the virtual classroom interactive allows learners to share their insights about the topic. Teachers need to remember that in flexible learning, the teacher is no longer the primary and only source of information. A vast source of information is readily available at the palm of the learner’s hands through digital technology; hence the rare synchronous sessions should give learners a chance to generate ideas and information. In class discussions, teachers are highly encouraged to ask thought-provoking and meta-cognitive questions that will allow learners to think critically, make careful decisions, and provide practical solutions to real-world predicaments. Teachers should regularly check the overall well-being of learners, as well as make room for meaningful learning experiences through personal conversations and always relate discussions to life-experiences.
3. Assessment. Teachers can design and prepare their assessments using the three types: assessment for learning, assessment as learning, and assessment of learning.
Assessment for learning (AFL) happens during knowledge acquisition through formative evaluation, which is not usually part of the gradable component. In AFL, students can understand what they have to learn from teachers continually providing feedback and advice on how and where students need to improve.
Assessment as learning (AAL) makes learners aware of their thought processes through self and peer assessments. With the teacher’s assistance, learners can do self-reflection of their work and decide how they will proceed in their learning journey.
Assessment of learning (AOL) happens at the end of a task or unit in learning in summative tests. These assessments are part of gradable components that serve as a helpful tool for teachers in evaluating their students’ learning. When drafting assessments, teachers are encouraged to construct and design authentic assessments such as collaborative outcomes-based projects, portfolios, and performance tasks to boost learners' effective communication, creativity and innovation, and critical thinking skills. One rule of thumb in checking outputs is to give timely feedback so learners can make room to improve what they lack in the learning process.
Flexible learning ensures that knowledge acquisition and skills development are unhampered despite the pandemic.
The flexible learning modality is somewhat a journey in uncharted waters for many teachers. It tests their patience and understanding to cater to every learner’s needs. Many teachers are still adjusting how to balance life and work since the flexible learning modality is demanding. Ergo, in this time of pandemic, leniency and compassion have been the motto for many of them. To ensure that learning never stops, schools should keep an open mind and allow their teachers flexibility in the delivery and approach of courses. Administrators and teachers should keep an open communication line to discuss what works best in this setup. Schools should trust their teachers’ competence to carry out the mission of providing quality education to learners. They should continue to provide support and training for their teachers and make room for sharing good practices to continually adjust their teaching pedagogies as they continue to embark on the flexible learning mode of instruction.
Presently, the Philippines' education sector still faces many challenges in implementing a flexible learning approach both in public and private schools. But every stakeholder, from the government officials to the school administrators, teachers, parents and guardians, and even the learners are working together to adapt to this new normal. With the many unprecedented changes, everyone can be comforted that good things can arise from bad things – that education is still possible, and that learning continues even in the pandemic.