Newman University research shows that flexible learning enhances teaching

Flexible learning enhances face-to-face teaching and prepares students for the real world.

A report into flexible learning undertaken by staff and students at Newman University in Birmingham and published by the Higher Education Academy has changed perceptions of the nature of flexible learning. The report, ‘Student-researched case studies of flexible learning to support flexible learners’ identified that often students studying flexibly see it more as an opportunity to enhance face-to-face learning opportunities, rather than replace them. The use of technology to access recorded lectures, which facilitates learning for students who have to fit their studies around their other commitments, was found to improve the relationship between students and their lecturers.

Academics at Newman University have been working with their students to find out what they really think of flexible learning. When policy makers talk about flexible learning they usually actually mean flexible delivery of teaching either through part time or online provision. Student researchers at Newman were supported to gather the views and experiences of their peers on flexible learning and the research provided some interesting results. Students do value the opportunities provided by on-line and part time options to study when, where and how they want. However many students also emphasised the importance of flexibility within face-to-face teaching which allows them to learn through group working, real-life projects, extra-curricular opportunities and through choosing or negotiating their own assignments. It was this flexibility, based on personal contact and interaction, which came through most strongly from the student research. The students saw these activities as giving them the opportunity to develop themselves as flexible learners who would be able to go away and apply these learning approaches in the wider world.

Said lead researcher, Dr John Peters: ‘We were surprised that students saw flexible learning as being less about e-learning and more about opportunities to work with staff to shape their own academic work in ways that develop capabilities and understanding which matter to them and will help them in their future lives. This insight should help us further develop the learning opportunities we provide for our students.’

This is one of a whole series of Newman University projects exploring the insights to be gained from working with, listening to and learning from our own students. Dr Peters added: ‘Newman University’s scale and  ethos means we work with students as growing human beings rather than huge cohorts of student numbers. It is our privilege to work with students from a wide range of backgrounds and to learn from them as they learn with us.’

It is hoped that the findings of this research will improve the student experience of flexible learning at universities across the UK.

You can see this news story on Newman University’s website here.