Friday, April 4, 2008

Week three - Why we need flexible learning.

I believe we need flexible learning to survive.
I found reading Leigh Blackall's articles "NZ student debt impossible to live with " and the chapters on " Flexible learning in New Zealand " as great reasons to adopt more flexible learning opportunities in my current environment teaching cookery.
Being based in Cromwell we tend to draw our students from satellite towns such as Alexandra, Queenstown, Te Anau, Wanaka & Oamaru. Students from these areas usually find accommodation locally, but due to the size of Cromwell part time employment can be difficult to procure so living costs during the course are usually not subsidised.
We tend to find some students that do not have support from parents or partners can struggle to survive with the higher living costs associated with Central Otago. This has effected both dropout rates, outcomes & in my opinion has prevented many students from enrolling.
Locally school leavers have been known to receive between $15 - $20 per hour as building labours which is very tempting when one is looking at at the alternatives ,$12,000 student loan debt & starting rates at $12 per hour with long hours, weekends etc.
We also have to contend with low unemployment & competing with an industry suffering worker shortages and as a result their employing of unskilled foreign labour. We find approx half of the enquiries we receive about courses are from foreign workers looking to fulfil immigration requirements to gain residency but are put off by the high fees.
Recessions of the past have seen more students return to tertiary education to upskill and enhance employment prospects yet times of prosperity have tended to hurt us.
We need to reconfigure our practice to benefit both students and industry by meeting their needs on a local level. If we can attract, retain & place more students in industry by flexible delivery then I believe we are fulfilling our purpose.
I think too much choice is a bad idea as far offering different courses to achieve the same result ie day release course opposed to a full time course, which as far as resources go are unsustainable. Packaging quality courses that have students taking responsibility for their learning which is self paced yet ensure they have the practical based tutorials and monitoring and is affordable is our future in Central Otago.

1 comment:

Bronwyn hegarty said...

You describe some very good reasons for introducing flexibility. As you say...."If we can attract, retain & place more students in industry by flexible delivery then I believe we are fulfilling our purpose."

I wonder how you can do this if you do not offer more choice - it could be a contradiction. Perhaps a solution is to do a needs assessment and see what your target learners require to access your courses.

I agree there has to be a balance between cost-effectiveness and the provision of education which meets the needs of the learners and industry.

What thoughts have you had about learning options where students do all their study in the workplace? For example, they practice skills (tutorials) at home and in the workplace, using simulations, and are assessed on the job, supported by self-paced packages, and some sort of class and lecturer interaction - e.g teleconference, video conference, computer conference, email group, blogs.

Some would probably welcome day release and of course you need the staff to support this. Lots of good ideas to bandy around and think about.