Flexible learning needs flexible teachers. How to stay relevant in the context of lifelong learning and create value for institutions, staff, students, and employers.

Jochen Barth

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Freek Grootenboer

Huub Dekkers

Education traditionally has the task of preparing students for a successful start in the labour market. In the context of lifelong learning, upgrading skills and developing professionals is also part of that assignment. It is becoming increasingly clear however, that current part-time education does not sufficiently meet the needs of professionals. The combination of work and private life demands flexibility in education: learning at a preferred time and place, with course materials that are of immediate relevance within the individual work context.

Providing optimal and effective opportunities for flexible learning does not only have a direct effect on the employability prospects of students but also the future of employers in need of the best talent with the most up to date skills. In a fast-changing (labour) market, lifelong learning is key to ensure both. It is thus extremely important that we take flexible learning seriously, if we want to ensure that education providers remain relevant in that fast-changing market.

Flexibilization of education can only be successful if we take the development of teachers in that context seriously. Instead of the classic focus on making education more flexible, we argue for an approach in which teachers are taken as the starting point. After all, they are the ones who will have to deliver flexible education. Instead of instructing them top-down that education must be done differently, we believe that the teacher plays the key role in enabling that change.

Currently we are used to seeing the position of teachers as a universal, more or less standardized role. Flexibilization offers the opportunity to think much more explicitly and fundamentally about the shift and expansion that must take place in the role of teachers. This offers opportunities to redefine roles and associated obligations, and more freedom to choose roles that match individual expertise, strengths, and personality. Whereas in the past teachers are often expected to fulfil several roles at the same time, flexible education increasingly demands specialization within a single role or a combination of roles that best suit the profile of the teacher. This should result in higher work satisfaction and less absenteeism. Overall, students will benefit from not only more flexible education, but also higher course quality delivered by a more engaged staff.

The implications of this teacher-oriented approach for the organization are profound as it will have to deal with questions such as: What does this mean for training and development? What are our requirements when hiring new staff? How do we evaluate performance and ensure quality? And what effect does it have on appraisal and promotion? In our workshop we will share our key insights on the key role of teachers in the flexibilization of education, provide the participants with helpful tools and models to use in their own organization, and facilitate exercises that provide answers to the questions above.

This workshop should provide valuable insights and practical guidance for education managers, HR professionals, and teachers looking for ways to fully embrace the ongoing trend in flexibilization to better serve the needs of students and the labour market.