How Flexible is Flexible Learning?

Flexible learning encompasses a wide variety of teaching philosophies and strategies centred on providing students with more responsibility, opportunity and choice in how, what, where and when they learn (Collis and Moonen, 2011; Arfield et al., 2013). As geographers, we were naturally curious about the where and when aspects of flexible learning, but found that both of these issues were not adequately addressed in the existing literature on flexible learning. The lack of evidence-based research on the impact flexible learning initiatives have on student flexibility and how this affects their learning is especially troubling given the amount of resources currently being devoted to introducing these approaches in institutions around the world. To investigate this, we used a combination of tracked IP addresses, time stamps, student surveys and focus groups to examine where and when students completed ‘flexible’ online assignments and how increased flexibility impacted their performance on these assessments.

We presented our approach and results at the 2016 Festival of Learning.


Overall, we found that increasing the flexibility of assessments resulted in a measurable change in where students completed their work compared to their predicted behaviour and that this increase in spatial and temporal flexibility had no significant effect on their performance or on the number of late assignments. It is clear from these results that students respond to having more choice in where, when and how they work by changing their study habits, likely to better fit external demands on their time and space, and that the benefits of this far outweigh any negative impacts on student learning.


Derek Turner , Teaching and Learning Fellow (Flexible Learning), University of British Columbia
Loch Brown , Instructor, University of British Columbia
Arthur ‘Gill’ Green , Teaching and Learning Fellow (Flexible Learning), University of British Columbia
Elissa Liu , Research Assistant, University of British Columbia
Miriam Katz , Research Assistant, University of British ColumbiaTurner flexible learningTurner flexible learningTurner flexible learning

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