Flexible Learning Pilots
Pilots application form
Please ensure you have read the guidance below before you complete the form.
As part of the Flexible Learning Programme, we are seeking to identify and establish new experiences, pathways, practices and processes for students and staff.
Key to our approach will be to provide opportunities to try out new ideas and approaches, evaluate them and make decisions about whether they are suitable for wider adoption.
To facilitate this, the Flexible Learning Programme will support a range of pilot projects during the programme lifespan.
Please read the guidance below and complete the form (link in box to the left) if you'd like to submit an outline proposal for funding from the Flexible Learning Programme pilot activity.
Why do we need pilots?
Pilot projects have been a long-established mechanism for testing out ideas before committing to them fully.
Benefits of Flexible Learning pilots:
- Supporting and encouraging innovation to explore the potential of flexible learning
- Giving greater insights into the experiences of learners, academic staff, professional service staff, external stakeholders
- Regular monitoring and evaluation will allow us to better understand benefits, challenges and risks (more information on reporting requirements below)
- Helping us to identify where changes to systems and processes are needed to support innovation
- “Lessons learnt” from pilots will provide valuable insights for any future activities and recommendations, even if pilots don’t reach their intended outcome
Pilot submission process
We welcome informal conversations about pilot proposals prior to making a submission – you can send an email to Flexible Learning@manchester.ac.uk to get in touch. The process is designed to be supportive and encourage the submission of ideas through a light touch proposal form. This means colleagues can submit their ideas without needing a fully formed project plan or costing model at this stage, as these can be developed if the outline proposal is accepted.
The submissions will be reviewed by a panel made up of Flexible Learning Programme delivery group members. If the panel approves this outline proposal, applicants will be required to complete a more detailed proposal, including a detailed project plan and costing (guidance for this will be provided).
We will provide feedback in case a pilot proposal is not selected and will always seek to identify how the proposal could be reworked. A list of funded pilots will be made available through the Flexible Learning StaffNet pages.
Whilst it is not a requirement that the outline proposals are signed off by any departmental heads/leads, it will be necessary for the fully detailed project plan and costings to have evidence of departmental support.
Any pilot proposal that supports the overall aims and objectives of the Flexible Learning strategy will be considered across our four key areas of flexibility - pace, place, pathways and practice.
However, there are some specific themes and sub-themes for which pilots are particularly welcome:
1. Inclusivity and accessibility
Inclusive and accessible learning is at the heart of flexible learning. While we expect that all pilots will consider inclusivity and accessibility, pilots specifically supporting this theme will seek to understand and demonstrate good practice to ensure maximum accessibility to learning and successful approaches to inclusion.
2. Technology / digital tools
Testing and trialling digital tools and technologies to support flexible learning. This may be a specific tool for teaching and learning, or a new system/service to improve a process or experience. This theme seeks to explore how we can make the best use of digital tools and technologies for increased flexibility and access to learning.
3. Digital skills
Supporting students and staff in developing their digital skills is key to successfully embedding flexible learning across the University. In order to make the best use of digital learning tools and systems, we need to have the confidence and capability to use these tools. Pilots supporting this theme will seek to identify ways to enhance the digital capabilities of students and staff.
4. Physical estate
Our physical estate needs to be ready to support flexible learning. This includes the layout of small and large teaching spaces, as well as AV equipment. Pilots supporting this theme will examine ways in which we could reimagine (teaching) spaces for flexible learning.
5. People and policy
Our people and how we work together are key to making change happen. Pilots supporting this theme will seek to identify how we can work in a more agile and collaborative way across the University, and engage with internal and external stakeholders to realise the potential of flexible learning.
6. Lifelong learning
A key ambition of the Flexible Learning Programme is to embrace and embed a breadth of educational pathways that give access to a Manchester education throughout a learner’s lifetime, no matter what their needs and circumstances are.
Pilots supporting this theme will identify and test alternative approaches to learning design, examining the potential for alternative models of provision.
Flexibility within the curriculum is a key consideration within models of flexible learning. The Flexible Learning Programme is particularly interested in exploring the possibilities of enhancing flexibility of assessment for our Flexible Pathways. Pilots supporting Assessment for our flexible pathways will seek to identify opportunities for increased flexibility for formative and summative assessment as well as the associated feedback experience.
Colleagues can submit their proposals flexibly throughout the year and proposals will be reviewed by the panel on a monthly basis.
Due to the varied nature of pilot projects, the timeframes will vary depending on the type and scale of the proposed pilot. We anticipate that most pilots will run from between a couple of months to a full year, but there is no restriction on the timing or length of proposed pilots. The most important consideration is that pilots have adequate time to engage with stakeholders, implement ideas and evaluate the experience.
All pilots should be completed by the end of the academic year 2025. However, there may be the potential to transition any pilot activity to ‘business as usual’ as part of the proposed 'Centre' for Flexible Learning.
All outline pilot proposals are asked to give an indication of what any funding will be used for. Detailed costing will be required for the final agreed pilot and guidance will be provided to help with this.
There is no specified limit, but the Flexible Learning Programme will seek evidence of careful consideration of costs and cost-effectiveness. There is no restriction as to what the budget can be utilised for, but all budget requests will need to be in line with the financial regulations of the University and monies received should only be used to directly support the pilot.
Co-creating with students and stakeholders
The experiences of our learners and their unique perspectives are key to the success of flexible learning. Therefore, the Flexible Learning Programme is keen to collaborate with students on all aspects of our strategy, and we particularly welcome student-led or student partnership pilots. We also invite pilots that have a civic or social impact element and encourage engagement with local or regional stakeholders beyond the University.
All internal and external stakeholders should be identified and documented as early as possible as part of the outline proposal.
The Flexible Learning Programme encourages and supports innovation and as such we welcome pilots which explore the ‘unknown’. It is a fundamental principle of the programme that we fund pilots that push the boundaries and explore new approaches, as long as we capture the lessons and learning from the pilots. Even where a pilot does not achieve all of its objectives, we still expect an evaluation of that experience to inform future activity. Pilots are an opportunity to try out new things, meaning that there will be some risk of failure. With this in mind, we will require all projects to undertake a form of risk analysis as part of the detailed project plan, to minimise any risk, whilst at the same time recognising that it exists.
Support and collaboration
A dedicated Microsoft Teams space will be available for all pilots to share experiences, resources, update on progress and reach out for support. This community of practice will facilitate discussion and collaboration, as well as sharing experiences and supporting each other. Each pilot will have its own private channel to work in, alongside a general channel where all pilots can communicate in a shared space.
Pilot reporting and outputs
Ongoing reporting and final evaluation of the pilot is a condition of funding, the timings of which will be agreed as part of the detailed project plan. This regular reporting will be help ensure the pilot is still on track to achieve its objectives or where necessary to make changes. The progress reporting milestones will be agreed and an evaluation methodology identified for each pilot as part of the approval process. It may also be necessary for the pilots to showcase their findings and experiences as required by the Flexible Learning Programme. As well as a final report there may be additional outputs and resources (e.g. toolkits, guides, videos, podcasts, presentations) developed as pilot outputs.
The monitoring and evaluation activity will be based on the following framework:
|Focus of Evaluation||Evaluation question|
|Relevance||Has the pilot topic and its activities met the information/experience needs of the intended stakeholder groups? To what extent are the completed pilot outcomes still in line with the needs and priorities of the Flexible Learning Programme?|
|Efficiency||To what extent did the methods/approaches used in this pilot lead to improvements in efficiency (financial/staffing/resourcing etc)? What other approaches could be considered in light of the pilot - would these be more or less efficient?|
|Effectiveness||To what extent did the methods/approaches used in this pilot lead to improvements in effectiveness (learning/outcomes/experience/flexibility etc)? What other approaches could be considered in light of the pilot - would these be more or less effective?|
|Outcome||To what extent was the pilot able to meet/exceed its objectives? To what extent has the pilot led to improved outcomes or behaviours in the stakeholder groups? Were there any other unintended positive or negative outcomes from the pilot?|
|Sustainability||To what extent has the pilot identified the potential for its activity to lead to the long-term behaviour/operational change? What would need to happen to make these changes happen?|