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'Student-centred, pedagogically-sound and strategically-aligned' – launching the new Framework for Student Success: Flexible Learning

29 May 2024 | Professor Mark Loon We invited Professor Mark Loon, author of our 'Flexible Learning: a literature review 2016 - 2021', to share his thoughts on the new framework.

Depending on the perspective one takes as a student, educator or university administrator, flexible learning has a different meaning to different people. This multiple perspective is one of the characteristics of flexible learning that makes it an incredibly rich area of discussion, research and practice. However, irrespective of the perspective one takes, flexible learning is here to stay as a diverse range of flexible learning practices emerge over time. 


This phenomenon is reflected in one of my research projects that I undertook to understand how graduates developed their practices for learning that not only enabled them to adapt to demands of their early careers but also enabled them to be more flexible in their learning. Specifically, in the study, I found students’ flexibility in the way they learned compelled them to be more open to the discovery of new ideas, and adept in improvising by enhancing their reflexivity ie the way they swiftly respond to changing circumstances and situations. As graduates grapple with their new careers and life, post-university, they “learn to be reflexive” and “learn from reflexivity,” which, over time, becomes a norm. In other words, reflexivity becomes routine (eg being flexible becomes second nature) and routines are more reflexive (eg there are “buffers” in routines to cater for interruptions from everyday life). 

Working students

The relevance of this research is not just for graduates, but it also extends to existing university students, to whom part-time work is an inescapable reality. These students have to keep juggling between studying and their jobs (sometimes they have more than one), and for some students (even those studying undergraduate degrees) families as they may have dependents. Such situations are prevalent in universities that strive to be more inclusive and have significant student cohorts from under-represented groups eg those from low socio-economic backgrounds, and with disabilities. For universities in countries like Australia, First Nations students are also under-represented who are likely to be from regional areas who need unique and appropriate support to succeed. Indeed, the needs of students from these backgrounds are quite different from the traditional cohorts of students. 


Hence, flexible learning needs to be student-centred. From the example of student cohorts I just identified, it's plain to see why a one-size-fits-all approach is likely to fall short in meeting these students’ needs. But then again, institutions do not have bottomless resources to individually tailor all content and delivery methods. Universities have to be strategic in the way they adopt flexible learning to work for them whilst at the same time placing their student communities at the heart of it.  

New Framework for Flexible Learning

This is where Advance HE’s new Framework for Flexible Learning starts to play a role. The new framework takes a more holistic view of flexible learning to ensure that flexible learning is not only available and embedded across all of an institutions’ program but that it is also sustainable (eg financially) and is continuously evolving.

In 2022, I was commissioned by Advance HE to undertake the literature review on flexible learning. In my review, one of my key findings was that, at the institutional level, organisational learning was crucial for universities to continuously learn and adapt their flexible learning approaches. The advent of new technologies and changing social dynamics necessitate universities to keep pace of these changes as students’ needs also change as a result. 

However, the new Framework for Flexible Learning does not stop here. In the middle, between the students and institutions are the educators. I think this is where educational innovation happens. Educators have to meet students’ diverse needs whilst using institutional resources available to them, in ensuring that content and delivery are pedagogically sound to enable students to have a good learning experience, and ultimately achieve in their programmes. The framework highlights several useful areas for consideration but ultimately, even with the best ‘ingredients’, educators have to come up with the ‘right’ (ie innovative) recipe. 

Like all other areas of practice, working for flexible learning is a craft and an art form ie it leverages on the expertise of the educators in terms of delivery skills and subject area, and it is about being creative in developing flexible learning modes. Institutional support is important to ensure that educators are given a voice, the time and support to innovate, whilst educators need to play their part in supporting their university’s organisational learning by sharing with their institutions what works (and what does not). 

Necessity is the mother of all invention, and as society changes and the characteristics of students change, all universities will have to rise to the challenge. Flexible learning will only continue to grow and become a permanent fixture. So much so, perhaps one day ‘flexible learning’ will no longer be part of our professional parlance. It will just be ‘learning’ as flexibility will be a given. 

Professor Mark Loon


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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