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The 'Our Future' vision that came out in early 2020 sets the direction of travel towards increased flexibility through blended and flexible learning. Flexible Learning is a programme of work we have established to create the right conditions and support structures to allow us to explore new ways of teaching and learning across The University of Manchester. 

Flexible Learning will explore how flexibility over pace, place, time, mode and qualification can support learners’ individual choices. We want to ensure teaching across The University of Manchester is accessible, inclusive and international by developing a strategic approach for the future of learning is created with staff and students. 

Watch Professor April McMahon talk more about our flexible, blended future

'First steps to flexible learning' paper

Between January and April 2021, our Flexible Learning team visited Faculty, School and Department meetings, held an open meeting and met with students to learn more about your experiences of teaching and learning during the pandemic. We wanted to listen to your views on how flexible learning should be embedded at The University of Manchester to inform the  'First steps to flexible learning paper' that was approved by Senate in April 2021.

Thank you to the hundreds of colleagues and students who fed in their views. You can take a look at the core proposal, supporting recommendations and considerations below:

Core proposal

We make a conscious move to adopt blended learning as our default model of delivery at programme level, recognising that the optimal balance of blended learning and synchronous and asynchronous activities will differ considerably between different disciplines. This provides freedom for individual academic course unit leaders to lead on defining the appropriate methods and mix of delivery in consultation with those responsible (e.g. programme directors or equivalent) to create a balanced portfolio of synchronous, asynchronous, on-campus and on-line activities across a programme (see glossary of terms) 

Supporting recommendations

The intention here is to begin the process of shifting from a traditional model of teaching and learning towards one of increased flexibility and more agile ways of working.  

  • Synchronous activities should primarily be used for active learning, e.g. highly interactive lectures that include quizzes, online polls or surveys, opportunities for Q&A etc., flipped classrooms, workshops, seminars, tutorials, laboratories, example/problem classes, fieldwork and practical activities etc. Where possible future teaching should be designed such that it can be delivered on campus or online, depending on circumstances.
  • Non-interactive explanatory material should, for the most part, be delivered through online asynchronous activities (e.g. videos and guided reading, supported by formative assessments such as online quizzes). This is intended not as an outlawing of any particular form of delivery, but rather the first steps towards shifting the emphasis away from the ‘traditional’ model of teaching provision towards more flexible methods as our default.  We recognise that there may be constraints in terms of scale and contact hours in some areas that will need to be addressed for this to be realistic.
  • Where appropriate, course unit descriptors should contain a clear study map that explains how students are expected to use the nominal 100 hours per 10 credits. Guidance should be provided to indicate activities that are essential to achieve learning outcomes, recommended to enhance the level of outcome, or optional ‘for interest’.
  • Students should be supported to create individual learning schedules that include both synchronous and asynchronous activities, emphasising the need for them to develop as independent, self-directed learners as they progress through their studies. This may be achieved, for example, though working with their Academic Advisors, or by provision of a timetable that includes notionalslots for asynchronous activities (e.g. time to watch videos, read material and access formative quizzes). This provides a framework that gives staff and students confidence that there is a workable ‘study week’ of appropriate intensity. Initial student feedback has indicated that learners value this guidance, which gives the option to move asynchronous material to a time that suits their needs.  


Engagement sessions with staff and students also highlighted the following points as critical dependencies and assumptions: 

  • To ensure staff wellbeing, manageable workloads and the creation of high-quality resources, a blended model should be supported by appropriate resourcing, including support in the practicalities of creating blended teaching materials, instructional design and training, digital tools and pedagogical support. 
  • In some areas there may be practical considerations or concerns over contact hours that may require additional thought.   
  • Workload/contribution models should reflect the effort required to deliver blended learning. 
  • Assessments should be clearly related to learning outcomes and should provide opportunities for formative feedback against learning outcomes before summative assessment. Note that in a blended model, assessments may take place in-person and on-campus, or online, depending on requirements. 
  • Accessibility should be embedded in course design from the outset; to support this, clear guidance will be produced to make provision uniform across the organisation.  
  • Staff and students digital skills should be supported via a targeted training offer and embedded within CPD. 
  • Virtual learning environments and digital tools should be reviewed to establish the requirements for and define the shape of our future 'Digital Learning Environment'. This includes digital infrastructure related to teaching and learning, but also tools to facilitate access to support services, contact academic advisors and build learning communities. 
  • Current use of the University estate should be reviewed. This will need to consider availability of AV suites, dual delivery, and spaces on campus for students to engage with online content.