Flexible learning is the “new normal” of education, says education experts

July 15, 2020, Philippines
— Less than a month before the formal opening of classes nationwide, schools must realize the value of implementing a flexible learning approach as the “new normal” of education, especially amidst the growing health crisis.

This was the common consensus among experts in the education field who participated in the webinar, “Doing It Fast & Doing It Right: Flexible Learning Strategies through a Technology Consortium”, last July 15. The use of a learning management system (LMS), in particular, emerged as the recommended modality in carrying out flexible learning for the new school year.

Implementing flexible learning

Realizing that schools are most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) continues to draft a set of guidelines to effectively implement flexible learning among Philippine higher education institutions (PHEIs), which will take effect at the beginning of the new academic year.

For Professor Ninia Calaca, one of the members of CHED’s technical working group for flexible learning, five aspects must be considered when gauging the readiness of an institution for flexible learning: learner readiness, faculty readiness, content material readiness, institutional support, and system readiness.

These five aspects should also be used to determine which tools are needed by the school. “There are many possible options, and many will offer their services to you. With all these choices, you only have to consider these five [aspects],” Calaca said.

Using an LMS

Calaca recommended the use of an LMS, given its capabilities in effectively and rapidly disseminating learning materials relevant to students. Currently, open frameworks like Moodle have been used in developing these systems, including ACCESS LMS.

The use of an LMS is not exactly a novel concept, as several premier universities in the country already make use of such a system. In fact, their use of an LMS has also yielded positive results among their students.

Speaking from his experience in utilizing an LMS for his classes, Professor Vicente Reventar III, who was a lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), saw significant improvements not only in student engagement, but also in their mastery of the lessons. 

Reventar, in particular, made use of interactive learning materials and gamification for his lessons as a way to engage his students, to positive results.

Challenges to flexible learning

While classrooms in other institutions around the world have adopted the same tech-enabled tools, Reventar noted that the model of learning remains the same. Yet, with the new normal, this traditional model will be challenged.

“Because we’re all going online, it’s as if the teacher is teaching from a box. It’s even more difficult to engage with the students in a purely virtual environment,” Reventar said.

This is just among the many uncertainties surrounding the new mode of learning for the upcoming school year, especially since a number of schools and PHEIs have grown accustomed to a learning ecosystem primarily confined within the campus.

Technology as a solution

With the new normal, academic institutions are compelled to expand their learning ecosystems to homes and communities. For Arlyn Susa, account manager for ADEC Innovations Knowledge Management, technology is the key to achieve this.

Tech-enabled tools, like ACCESS LMS, will play a vital role in this crucial transition period. To make this even more accessible to other institutions with fewer students, both Susa and Calaca proposed such schools to join a CHED-recognized consortium and achieve the common goal of making the transition to the new normal of learning.

“With the unexpected move to flexible learning, the entire learning ecosystem now exists in the realm of technology. As we move forward, the physical barriers that confine the learning ecosystem no longer exists, and the ecosystem is now boundless, even timeless,” Susa said.

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