How to Incorporate Flexible Learning Into Your Online Courses

Is your online course adaptable to learner needs? Here’s how flexible learning can help.

Flexible learning is naturally suited to e-learning and online courses. The point of an online course is to allow learners to go at their own pace and ensure they thoroughly understand the material in one module before moving on to the next. With the focus on mastering the material and online studies, flexible learning naturally lends itself well to this type of educational course.

What is Flexible Learning?

Flexible learning describes a learner-focused learning environment that caters to different learning styles and preferred teaching environments. This can include allowing learners to take part in their education partly online and partly in the classroom—what has also been known as blended learning. However, flexible learning goes beyond this. There’s more customization of the delivery of the material and the manner in which it’s presented.

It’s an approach in which the time and pace of the learning is determined by learners, rather than a more structured timeline. This can also include how much of the material is delivered via new technology and how much is presented in a more traditional book or lecture.

How is Flexible Learning Suited for Online Learning?

The power of flexible learning is ideally suited to online education. The delivery of much of the material in online courses naturally allows the learner to proceed at their own pace. Flexible learning gives learners the freedom to determine when they complete each phase of the course.

Flexible online learning can enhance the effectiveness of professional development, allowing learners to work through the material as their schedule allows. Online education is also portable – that is, learners can learn at home, on their lunch break at work or on their daily commute, listening to lectures via podcast. Having different ways of presenting the material also suits different learning preferences and enables learners to master the concepts in ways that suit them.

Flexible learning gives your learners the time they need to digest the information and engage with one another to discuss the concepts. Multimedia content and a vibrant, online discussion community enhance the more traditional classroom experience. Experimenting with new formats allows your courses to grow and change in response to the needs of the learners.

Allow learners to pick their deadlines.

Letting learners determine their own deadlines gives them more control over the pace of the course. Some learners may take more accountability and ownership over their success with the program. Some studies indicate that learners that have self-imposed deadlines perform better than those who have no deadlines.

When learners have more control over when projects or reports are due, it gives them time to fully learn the material and demonstrate mastery of the information. It can also help them re-adjust their workload, if they have multiple deadlines in one week. Flexible learning can give busy professional learners the time they need to work through each phase of the course.

It’s important that when you’re allowing learners to set their own deadlines, that they submit these deadlines to you, in writing. This gives them a firm obligation to complete their training, in a reasonable amount of time.

Encourage learner-chosen e-learning groups to foster collaboration.

Learners in your e-learning courses may benefit from working in small groups to complete presentations or collaborate on special projects. Learners who select their own groups may end up being more successful and having a deeper understanding of the material than learners who were randomly assigned their groups. Many adult learners know instinctively what kinds of personalities that they work well with, and as such, can find others in the class that they get along with and who have a natural “group role” that complements their own.

Collaboration is important in many real-world professions, and, while learning to work with others to achieve a goal may not be the primary focus of your course, part of continuing education is to give learners the tools they need for greater professional success. Make sure, however, that group work doesn’t allow “free rides.” Have your learners each responsible for a key piece of the project, and consider giving individual quizzes after the completion of the project to ensure that each person did learn from the assignment. You may also wish to have members of the group evaluate each other, as far as participation and contribution for the assignment.

Make use of blended learning to include traditional concepts.

Blending traditional classroom instruction with flexible learning can encourage participation and collaboration outside the classroom. One such way to foster this is the creation of a virtual space for learners to discuss the course and share ideas. An online chat group, for example, allows learners to interact with each other on their schedule.

In addition to having an online forum for learner discussion, extending the hours of the classroom in this manner opens up the floor for more questions from learners that the more time-restricted lecture and classroom time may not allow. Learners may choose to post questions in the forum for you, the instructor, instead of emailing you. This gives other learners access to the answers, as well. When you have a forum where users can come and go as they have time, you’re opening up greater access. You, the instructor, can answer questions as you have time in your own busy schedule.

You may also wish to enhance the material in your online courses with media that relates to it. It may be a documentary that touches on your subject matter or a blog or website that features information you’re giving your learners. Send your learners links to other media to give them a broader picture of your concepts. You can also foster discussions of the blog post or video in your online course chat group.

Allow learners to repeat quizzes.

One of the reasons that many people opt for a more flexible learning environment is because it encourages learning and mastery of the material, not simply how much information the learners can digest in a short period of time. The point of having quizzes after each main point in the program is for learners to demonstrate that they’ve mastered the concepts and can adequately explain them.

If a learner fails the quiz, they should be allowed to review the material and study further, then re-take the quiz. Allowing learners the flexibility to improve their quiz score gives them valuable insight into where they failed to understand the concepts of the course. Flexible learning can help with this, including having immediate feedback on which questions were answered incorrectly. A great quiz will not just say “right” or “wrong” but will direct learners to places in the material where they can find the right answer.

Enjoy the benefits of autonomy.

Many e-learners are either undergoing ongoing training through their company or taking classes to further their education and professional development. Many of these people already enjoy a substantial degree of autonomy in their jobs. Giving them more control over how quickly they work through the course and how they receive the information (reading an e-book, listening to a podcast lecture or watching videos on their computer or tablet) gives them a greater degree of control.

Respecting your learners’ diverse ways of learning keeps the focus os e-learning on your learners’ developing knowledge. Allowing them to determine how they learn gives them greater ownership over their success.

Online learning is built to be flexible.

Online courses are naturally suited to a greater degree of autonomy and ideal for learners who are busy with careers and family. Due to the nature of e-learning courses, it’s easy to incorporate different learning styles and presentations of the materials and allowing learners to determine their own deadlines for projects. For courses that require collaboration and group work, flexibility with the size of groups and the people in them can have a greater final result. If you aren’t including more flexibility in your online courses, you may not be creating an environment where your learners can perform at their best.

Author

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Let's Talk! | Twitter

1 Response

  1. This is an excellent read in times such as these! Never before have we been required to collaborate more than now. This blended learning in the “flipped classroom” is empowering for students, and inspiring for instructors!

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