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The Flexible Curriculum

Given the changes in the makeup of student populations, and especially with more mature students, it is argued that there is an ever growing need to customise programmes. This includes the idea of allowing people to remain at work while they study, with HEIs acting as learning providers. Other suggestions include flexible degree structures and learning programmes for existing students.

Such a continuum of flexibility i.e. in terms of time, place, content and mode of learning and assessment implies a partnership between staff and learners with greater student choice and autonomy.  This in turn reflects growing student awareness and individualised learning, which is itself rightly founded on growing indications of interdisciplinarity in many programmes.  Find out more about developments in flexible delivery in Scottish HEIs.

A brief summary of constructivist theory and its implications for teaching and learning is discussed and its basis for the Personalisation of Learning. The implications for assessment in all this are that it too needs to be flexible and 'inclusive' for all students, including those from non-traditional backgrounds.

At the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) colleagues described (in 2011) a flexible approach to study, prompted by the G21C Enhancement Theme called Implementing Longitudinal Induction in an On-Line Degree Programme. There, students will be able to select a programme of study irrespective of UHI location or learning circumstances. They will have online access to high-quality networked teaching materials on a 24:7 basis, supported by lecturing staff. Some modules/programmes may involve a high proportion of asynchronous study while others may retain a high proportion of face-to-face, timetabled delivery.

Multiple progression routes will be available and, as students will have 24:7 access to materials, they will be able to learn at a pace suiting personal and professional circumstances. Whatever the blend of delivery models, programmes as a whole will instill and develop attributes defined in G21C.

The Open University has been engaged for two years in Learning from two skills utilisation projects funded by the Scottish Funding Council. One project is concerned with providing progression routes to BEng and beyond for engineering workers who have typically entered the industry through an apprenticeship route. The other is to help care workers achieve a leadership and management module which is becoming mandatory for staff in care homes who take up a supervisory grade.

The projects are different in as much as one focuses on progress towards a qualification while the other is quite closely tied through regulation to a single episode of HE study. Both groups, however, tend to have a considerable level of technical skill in their work context and also work in environments where team working and communication are critical. Work around these projects has benefited from the perspective of the G21C enhancement theme and outcomes from the project have informed the institutional team's thinking on graduateness and graduate attributes in relation to students who are already in work. At the time of writing (2011) evaluation was not complete.

However, the level of achievement by students in both settings and across several iterations of study is very high. In neither context are students confident about embarking on HE study and there is a low level of awareness of the attributes and skills that they possess. However, by the end of the first module this situation has changed dramatically - there is emerging evidence that the impact of this kind of study goes well beyond the straightforward achievement of learning outcomes.

A challenge for the analysis of the data is to see if there is evidence to support the development of a transformatory metaphor for understanding graduateness in the context of part-time students in work.