When ICT 5.0 meets COVID-19: Are we ready for Flexible Teaching & Learning?

By Dr Kwong Nui Sim, Lecturer/Academic Developer (Victoria University of Wellington)


The Use of ICT-5.0: Learning Behaviours

“I can learn from YouTube clips.”

“I can Google my questions at anytime, anywhere.”

“I can attend the lectures online without going to the class at 8am!”

“I can use different devices at the same time when I am doing a quiz.”

“I can create a chat group on Facebook in order to discuss this assignment.”

“Moral Panic” of COVID-19: Academic Responses

“I am not sure whether the students are learning by not attending the classes.”

“I am not keen in changing the styles of my courses delivery.”

“I am not aware of the Great Firewall in China.”

“I am not ready to teach online.”

“I am not ICT savvy.”


  • What are flexible teaching and flexible learning?
  • How do we define flexible teaching and flexible learning?
  • Why do we need flexible teaching and flexible learning?

As presented in the preamble above, information and communications technology (ICT) plays a prominent role in daily teaching and learning practices today and in fact, the use of ICT has led to the introduction of flexible teaching and flexible learning. Nevertheless, are these digital activities sufficient to capture the essence of flexible teaching and flexible learning?

Flexible teaching and flexible learning have been one of the repeatedly discussed topics in education for a while now but it seems like we still do not have answers to this basic question until lately. The arguments in this research domain have always focused on the benefits and the challenges of flexible teaching and learning. Therefore, perhaps it is time for us to pause a moment and reflect if we actually share a mutual understanding of what flexible teaching and learning is and if we are actually ready for the idea in practice, especially during this critical global time of the COVID-19 outbreak.


According to the Higher Education Academy, “Flexible learning is about empowering students by offering them choices in how, what, when and where they learn: the pace, the place and mode of delivery” (https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/individuals/strategic-priorities/flexible-learning, 2019).  However, flexible teaching and flexible learning that we “experience” is frequently associated with online or e-learning and has “been hampered by an implicit assumption that all online learners participate in and experience education in similar ways, including the appeal and normative value of flexibility” (Houlden & Veletianos, 2019).

The assumption in this matter has either overestimated or overlooked the roles of ICT that serves as a medium (i.e. online) for teaching and learning rather than as a way beyond reliance on the humans (i.e. the teachers and the students). It appears that what is lacking for this notion of flexible teaching and flexible learning is the pedagogies that underpin this process along with the shared understanding of flexible teaching and flexible learning in today’s education.

Testing the Limits

Flexible teaching and flexible learning require a balance of contributions among institutions, teachers and students that seeks to shift from inception to infinity (2018 FLANZ Conference Theme) with the accountability of the quality in the teaching and learning process. As Castañeda and Selwyn (2018) argued, it is important that we have an active commitment to ‘think otherwise’ about how ICT (i.e. online space) might be better implemented across education settings (flexible teaching and flexible learning in this case) instead of adopting a loosely imagined framework in academic practices. Thus, it is essential to understand how flexible teaching and flexible learning can be done in today’s education with the aim to meet the needs of students (Pratt & Kovatcheva, 2018) as well as in many unlikely and unexpected events such as pandemics and earthquakes, etc.

What’s Been Done; What’s To Come

As previously highlighted, a search in the literature about flexible teaching and flexible learning has been limited to the use of ICT and physical spaces in this aspect; the advantages and the challenges of flexible teaching and flexible learning; and the notion of blended learning that ties into flexible teaching and flexible learning. While flexible teaching and flexible learning seems to be straightforward using the literal definition, it is in fact very complex and requires consideration of all aspects of teaching and learning. While the global COVID-19 outbreak is certainly not what we wanted, there could be a silver lining in this disaster that should be able to change our minds without infecting our lungs.

On this note, the upcoming bi-annual FLANZ Conference with the theme focus on Flexible Learning may offer an ideal starting point for this conversation once the conference format is decided.

You may also be interested in this ASCILITE webinar presented on 2 March and which is available as a video recording here.

About the Author

Dr Kwong Nui Sim is a lecturer/academic developer at Centre for Academic Development, Victoria University of Wellington. Her main research interest is to explore the roles of ICT in education, particularly the beliefs and practices held by students and teachers as they undertake their daily academic practices. She is the recipient of the Emerging Scholar award at the annual ASCILITE 2019 conference held in Singapore late last year. Further information about the author may be accessed at https://www.victoria.ac.nz/learning-teaching/cad/staff/kwongnui-sim.


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