Robbing Peter to pay Paul? Time management in flexible learning situations

Judith Pollard


Although subjects permitting flexible learning have been available for many decades, recent advances in information and communications technology have led to an increase in their availability. Most subjects offering flexible learning share two characteristics: there is a clearly stated set of aims and objectives:, and students are given well defined tasks which carry some immediate reward. Thus students can see what they are trying to achieve, and can derive satisfaction, and a contribution towards the final assessment, as they master each step along the way. Evaluation of these initiatives often shows that there is an improvement in student learning.

These subjects may share a third characteristic: students often report spending more time working on subjects with flexible delivery than on conventional subjects. This raises two questions. Does the improvement in student learning for a subject delivered flexibly result primarily from increased time spent on this subject? And is this improvement accompanied by a drop in achievement in the students’ other subjects?

The Studio Physics Program developed at the University of Adelaide in 1998 and 1999 reduced the contact time for Physics I students to allow additional time for independent learning. The final examination results for students in the studio program showed neither a significant improvement in physics nor a reduced achievement in other subjects, when compared with the results for students in the conventional physics program. However, many students participating in the studio program reported that their understanding of physics improved as a direct result of the increased time spent studying physics. This raises an additional question: can flexible delivery be extended to more subjects in a way which improves student learning outcomes without making unreasonable demands on students’ time?

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