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What is flexible learning?

Flexible learning is a philosophy of learning that allows for more choice and engagement in the learning process. It is strongly based in empathy.

Flexible learning also includes technology, whether it be through online course work or digital options to access course content, to collaborate with peers, or to demonstrate learning.

The learning environment also plays a large role in a flexible learning philosophy. If we are going to allow learners to choose how they engage with their learning, we need to provide an environment that allows for this to happen. A flexible learning environment "provides opportunities for people to work together in new ways" (from https://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/govrel/ber/2011/berflexiblespace.pdf).

Video: See what Max & Laurianne, students in a newly designed flexible classroom at Place Cartier Adult Education Centre, Lester B. Pearson School Board, think about the learning environment in their classroom. Further down the page, you can see their teacher talk about how she set up the classroom.



When flexible learning is done well there can be great benefits to learners in the areas of:

  • autonomy
  • academic success
  • greater collaboration
  • increased motivation

(see 'additional resources' at the bottom of this page for sources to back these claims!)

Why flexible learning in adult education?

Diversity: Our students range in age from 16 - 96, their cultural backgrounds are richly varied, as are their socio-economic statuses as well as their reasons for being in our centres. For some of us, our classrooms are also made up of multiple levels and subject matters.

Flexibility is not merely an option, it is essential!

Technology: It allows for easier and more natural integration of technology. If your classroom has minimal access to technology, you can create a tech zone where perhaps learners can use their own devices or they can access the few pieces of tech you do have in your classroom - it could be clustered around the smart board if you have one.

image: from Stations in Lindsay's Classroom taken by Avi Spector

Maybe it is time to dismantle your centre's computer lab and distribute the computers among some of the classrooms so that they can be used within the tech zones...

 image: take down the lab CC BY-SA 2.0 Old Computer Lab by Wes Fryer https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/448477161/

So, what does flexible learning look like?

It is not easy to pin down one essential definition of flexible learning - and that is because it is so flexible! It means different things in different contexts. Here are some of the key ideas that need to be present to know it is happening:

Key ideas:

  • Choice - students are given choice in what and how they learn.
  • Pace - students are able to set the pace of their learning.
  • Environment - the environment needs to reflect the concept of choice as well.

When learners can choose how and when and where they will learn and collaborate, we are 'walking the talk' of our CCBE and DBE programs in adult education that put the learner at the centre of the learning process.

Video: Watch this video with examples of teachers across Quebec who are allowing for flexible learning to happen in (and out of!) their classrooms.


So how can I start with creating a flexible learning environment?

Video: Here is some advice from a principal who is going through the process of moving her school to a more flexible learning environment with her teachers. Rachel Wilson (Lester B Pearson School Board) says that empathy plays an important role.


Video: Here is Natasha Bellows, a teacher at Place Cartier Adult Centre, LBPSB, who is creating a flexible learning environment with her students:


But it is not ONLY about empathy. We need to balance this with the requirements of our programs.

Image: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Seating, Dublin City University by JISC Info Net on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/jiscinfonet/1934503870/

Though its name might seem otherwise, flexible learning needs to be structured. The only way to do this is to really understand what mastery looks like in your programs and to be very clear with your students about where they are in the learning process. Once you know where you are going, it becomes easier to be flexible about how people get there.


Here is a graphic representation of what is structured (or locked) and what can be more flexible (or unlocked).


 Model developed by Tracy Rosen, further described here: http://pdpractice.com/success-indicators-technology/


Presentation: Some examples of what clarity can look like in the classroom, Excerpt of a presentation by Sandra Laine, RECIT, Service National, Domaine des Langues



Learning Situation:  As Rachel Wilson said in the video about empathy, the best way to plan for changing your classroom environment is to do it with your students.

Janie Lamoureux, English teacher at Commission scolaire de la Seigneurie-des-Mille-Îles, designed a learning situation that does just that. While it is designed for a French sector English course, it can absolutely be modified to fit with our English sector competencies. Take a look and see where you think it can fit! (Click on the picture to get to the student booklet)



Some other tips:

  • Visit classrooms and schools or centres that are actively flexing their learning. Ask questions!
  • Google Flexible Learning
  • Talk with your students about how they best learn. Don't focus on learning styles, focus on comfort and motivation and engagement :)
  • Check out Classroom Spaces on Pinterest for ideas with your students
  • Choose one thing to get started with and have a good solid reason for why you are doing it.
  • Speak with your centre director - you never know, there may be a budget for this!
  • If not, write a PDIG with a teaching partner.
  • Contact your local pedagogical consultant, Avi Spector, or Tracy Rosen


Where does the technology fit?

Video: Listen to Natasha talk about the technology in her classroom.



Additional resources

Avi Spector's presentation on Transforming Classroom Spaces at #AQIFGA in Quebec, April 2017 (click on image to access the presentation). 





Learning resources for this tile were developed by Janie Lamoureux (Teacher, CSSMI), Sandra Laine (RECIT Consultant, CSHR), Rachel Wilson (Principal, LBPSB), Gail Gagnon (Consultant, LBPSB), Avi Spector (RECIT Consultant, RSB), Tracy Rosen (RECIT Consultant, CSSMI), 2016. Thank you!

All materials are expected to be reused and shared according to this Creative Commons license: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0