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Look to Scotland

Delegates from Norway, Denmark and Sweden visiting University of Highlands and Islands in Perth.
Delegates from Norway, Denmark and Sweden visiting University of Highlands and Islands in Perth.

A small delegation of eight Danes, four Norwegians and a Scottish Swede went to Scotland, just four days after the historic “No”. The field trip had be planned long before we were aware of the independence referendum, simply because we thought the Scots might have a thing or two to teach us about education.

One of the first thing to be noticed was that the Scots seemed to share a more flexible definition of “flexible education” than I have been doing so far. I am used to thinking of flexible education as teaching and learning that is detached from the traditional boundaries of being in the same place on the same time, and also being able to study full time or part time. In the universities we visited, flexible also included recognition of prior learning, work based learning, being able to enter learning without fulfilling formal requirements and taster courses.

Scottish Centre for Work based Learning was a good example of this. A part of Glasgow Caledonian University, it provides courses, training and education in close cooperation with employers and organisations, providing just-in-time learning that can also result in academic degrees. Engaging in learning contracts with every student, the centre develops study programs that let working professionals get academic credits while developing very relevant skills in what they think useful, even having the option to have work projects as their assessment.

Other great places to visit were the University of Highlands and Islands and the University of Edinburgh. Both demonstrated successful implementation of flexibility and technology enhanced learning, brining quality education to larger groups of learners. Two things they had in common to explain their success were thoroughness and professionalism. The development was secured with the senior managers, who were not afraid to dig in and get their hands dirty, so to speak. When pedagogical staff were motivated to go digital, they were supported both technically and legally. The universities didn’t just have visions; they had professional project management and change management. They were willing to spend the time and money necessary. For them “moocs” and “flexible education” became a part of “how we do things around here”, not just icing on the cake.

The people we spoke to all thought there was a new wind blowing; teachers are sharing and collaborating more than they used to, not only because they have to, but because they want to. Maybe they define themselves as context rather than content. This might very well increase the quality of education. It is even a viable business model.

By: Kari Olstad