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Flying the FLAG for flexible learning


Louise Merrillees of the Australian Flexible Learning Framework describes how the Framework and its parent organisation, the Flexible Learning Advisory Group, work to support and establish flexible working policy and programmes across this vast country.

The Flexible Learning Advisory Group (FLAG) is a government-funded project comprising senior training and education representatives from each Australian State and Territory, and from the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA), Adult and Community Education and the Commonwealth Department of Training and Youth Affairs. FLAG facilitates national collaboration and sets the agenda for national issues related to the directions and priorities for flexible learning, in particular, online technologies.

Originally established in 1996 as the Education Network Australia Vocational Education and Training Advisory Group, FLAG advises top-level national bodies such as the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA), CEOs and the Australian Information and Communication Technology in Education Committee, and works with the ANTA Board, the National Office for the Information Economy and the Department of Education, Science and Training on training sector perspectives and responses to national flexible learning policy issues.

FLAG is quietly changing the way the education and training sector approaches and implements new learning technology through the Australian Flexible Learning Framework (Framework). FLAG is the guiding force of the Framework, a national initiative designed to accelerate the take-up of flexible learning in Australia’s education and training landscape. The Framework is implemented through six strategic programmes managed across the jurisdictions of all states and territories: New practices in Flexible Learning, Professional development, Resources for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, Policy and Research, Communication and Leadership and Framework Management. The programmes aim to achieve the Framework’s mission and goals and support education and training providers with the implementation of flexible learning business strategies.

As the national strategy driving flexible learning in the Australian training sector progresses into 2004, FLAG is exploring the future direction of flexible learning.

FLAG Chair Jim Davidson, Director of the Victorian Office of Training and Tertiary Education, believes we have gone past the point of having to convince people that a flexible approach to delivering business outcomes is important.

"I see the adoption of flexible learning as central to the future of education and training. I think the ability to focus on client needs is a defining feature of the vocational education and training system in Australia. Learners such as people with disabilities, those living in remote locations or in Indigenous communities and people balancing learning with work and life commitments are not always able to take part in traditional training delivery. Flexible learning is about taking an innovative approach to the business of training and challenging the way we normally deliver to meet client needs. I think one of the sector’s strengths is that it has learners’ interests at the centre of its objectives, not the needs of the training delivery system."

Jim also believes training needs to be adapted to suit industry’s requirements. "Employers and industry need to have access to training that suits their business environment. I think the pressure is on industry to be cost competitive, yet provide their employees with high quality training. Training has always been seen by Australian employers as a key element of their business strategy, but having highly skilled staff can be costly, so they are looking at cost-effective ways that training can be integrated into their workplace setting. I think FLAG and the Framework’s job is to facilitate the growth of dynamic, innovative partnerships between industry and the education and training sector."

Independent evaluation conducted in 2002 showed that FLAG through the Framework has had significant impact on the training sector’s ability to implement flexible learning, particularly in professional development. Jim agrees. "I think the extent to which we have engaged training personnel in flexible learning professional development has been one of the major impacts of the Framework. We have provided a platform for providers delivering training services to industry to invest in professional development in a systematic and responsive way over a period of time. I believe that those delivering this training have recognised the fundamental importance of skilling their staff to the point where they don’t really see it as a question of whether they should do it, but how they should do it. And through programmes such as LearnScope and Flexible Learning Leaders and providing access to a community of learners, we’ve provided them with the how.”

Jim believes another area that FLAG and the Framework has produced tangible benefits for the education and training sector is the extensive development of flexible learning products, services and resources. "We have created a lot of valuable learning objects, knowledge and flexible learning resources to support the development of e-learning materials. Resources such as Toolboxes have been very effective in helping training organisations make the transition to flexible learning and have given us the knowledge and ability to develop an extensive library of learning objects that are cost effective and re-usable by teachers and trainers."

Jim said FLAG has also been instrumental in driving national policy for flexible and online learning. "The focus is now on working through some of the key issues that have a huge impact on flexible learning implementation such as bandwidth, electronic authentication and copyright. These issues are important for any training organisation no matter whether you are a public or privately funded training provider. FLAG is currently working through those issues and developing national and cross-sectoral strategies to benefit the whole education and training sector."

"One of the advantages of having a national system is that we have the capacity to pool resources and tap into national initiatives that enable us to work collaboratively to achieve real outcomes. A number of states and territories are now developing their own flexible learning strategies in alignment with the Framework and its strategic direction as set by FLAG. Each state and territory has to do what fits in with its own agenda but essentially we are all part of a national system and I think that the level of collaboration and pooling of resources across jurisdictions are demonstrated benefits of FLAG."

He added, "There is an increasing demand to meet the training needs of Australian industries through the provision of valuable and relevant education and training opportunities provided to employees. Only by meeting this demand can we ensure that Australia's workforce is dynamic, capable and competitive within a global marketplace."


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