Dimensions of flexibility

Dimensions of flexibility - Students, communication technology and distributed education

By Ståle Angen Rye (Lecturer at the University of Agder, Norway.)

"Flexibility is a frequent topic in any discussion of higher education in general and ”alternative” forms of education, such as distributed education, in particular. The term is usually associated with change, but there has been little attempt to analyse the concept in further detail. This is surprising, since flexibility is often seen as the distinguishing attribute of this type of education. It is therefore the aim of this article to clarify the concept of flexibility by relating it to students in distributed education and their study situation. In doing so, I hope to create a platform for further research and development in the field of distributed education."


This article tries to question some contributions about the student’s role (Nylehn’s, 1996), the role of technology in distance learning (Edward’s, 1997; 2002), the relationship between distributed education and social change, because "they fail to address the concept of flexibility as such". And stands up for others, like Sayer's (2000) flexibility from a scientific-theoretical point of view, or Nylehn's (1997) concept on the basis of what it means for organisations, because "each of these approaches affords in its own way a good starting point for a better understanding of flexibility".
According to Ståle Angen Rye, one still need to clarify the concept in relation to what flexibility means for students in distributed education. And to achieve it, he analyses those contributions in the light of existing research in the field of distributed education.

"The objective is to identify different aspects of student flexibility and to highlight factors that are influential in creating this flexibility. In this way I hope to make a contribution towards clarifying what we seek to achieve when flexibility is an objective, together with the factors that serve to increase/reduce flexibility, and to say something about the consequences of flexibility."
(Ståle Angen Rye)

Some conclusions:

  • Students’ possibilities, requirements and expectations in relation to the organisation of their everyday life, and thereby their flexibility, are determined by the students’ ties both to the educational institution and to principal actors in everyday life.
  • When the educational institution sets few rules and constraints, students following distributed education will always be dependent on their everyday environment.
  • The use of technology, from the foregoing perspective, must not be considered exclusively as a dimension in the relations between the student and the educational institution.
  • It may be useful to adapt the teaching programme, including the use of technology, to students’ everyday life and context in practice.
  • Not all forms of technology are advantageous to students.

LINK: http://www.seminar.net/current-issue/dimensions-of-flexibility-students-communication-technology-and-distributed-education (18 pages)
(retrieved October 19, 2009)

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