In the build up to the final date of submissions for the Widening Participation Conference 2014 (30 April – 1 May 2014, Milton Keynes, UK), theme leaders from the conference’s steering group have been fleshing out their theme in more detail, outlining potential areas of interest and raising questions.

In this post, the Open University’s Dr Laura Hills, Lecturer in Access, provides some further thoughts on the ‘flexibility and modes of delivery’ theme.

Flexibility and Modes of delivery

In an era of technological innovation and an increasingly heterogeneous student population, the traditional view of higher education as three years spent in a bricks and mortar institution is fast changing. Faced with increasing student fees and an uncertain employment market, students are now looking for a higher education experience which is structured around their work or family commitments and focussed on current or future employment. They also want an education which is mobile, both in terms of how and when they can study, and also ease of transfer of credit from one institution to another. Flexible learning is now the buzz word of higher education.

Of course, flexible learning, per se, is not new. Students have been studying part-time, at a distance or transferring between institutions for decades. What is new is a recognition of the potential value of flexible learning to both students and employers and the opportunity, through the prevalence of learning technologies, to make such learning available more widely and at scale. With this recognition has come increased interest and research into the pedagogical implications of flexible learning and how a learning experience rich in choice can also continue to be high quality.

A higher education experience which offers flexibility of pace, place and mode of delivery also offers opportunities to widen participation. Part-time and distance learning in particular have long enabled students from priority groups to access higher education in a way suited to their particular needs and circumstances. However, it is unclear whether the broadening out of flexible learning will widen participation or simply provide more choice to students who would have entered higher education in any case. Debates around the digital divide also raise concerns that the increasing use of learning technologies will reduce rather than increase choice and flexibility for students from widening participation backgrounds.

Theme organisers would be delighted to receive proposals which examine the impact and implications for widening participation of efforts to provide more flexible modes of delivery.


Poster and paper submissions are being welcomed which speak to one or more of the conference themes:

  • Innovation in Design and Pedagogy
  • Impact of Curriculum Reform
  • Curriculum Openness
  • Flexibility and modes of Delivery
  • Measuring and Demonstrating Impact
  • Revisiting Theory

Full details about making your submission can be found on the the conference website. The final date for submissions is 1 November 2014.

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