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					Nationellt centrum för flexibelt lärande
Swedish Agency for Flexible Learning
Järnvägsgatan 3A, SE 281 31 Hässleholm

Contribution to the conference
EMINENT 2002, Stockholm 21-22 November 2002.

Flexible Learning
Challenges for teachers, schools and authorities
Carl Holmberg

The Winds of Change
             The Technological Challenge
             The Policy Challenge
From Focus on Facts to Flexible Learning
             Facts, Information and Knowledge
             Teaching, Learning and Flexibility
Flexible Learning as a Challenge
Flexible learning in practise
             To own the starting point for studies
             The school as base camp
             Focus on examination forms
             Individualisation towards greater heterogeneity
Flexible learning - consequences at three levels

1 This article originates from a seminar I held at the National Board for Education (Skolverket). It has
also in an earlier version been presented to the European Experts’ Network for Education and
Technology (EENet) and can be found on ( The article does not intend to express a
clear scientific foundation for starting points, assertions and analyses. All such is lacking herein.
Instead, the aim of the text is to bring about a more unfettered discussion of the changes in schools
where the likely consequences of current events in society and schools are highlighted. In other
words, this is an attempt to bring to light some of the issues I contend must be problematised and
made the object of a broader discussion.

The Winds of Change
The Technological Challenge
School is one of society's most important institutions and therefore constantly in the
focus of analyses and discussion. It is in a good sense firmly integrated in social life
and therefore there is intimate interplay between society and school. If there are
changes in the way school functions, it has an impact on many other segments of
society. Most changes in the surrounding society also have consequences for school.

Political currents, the cultural climate, economic development and the growth of
knowledge in scientific disciplines are all phenomena with a major impact on the
education system. The relationship between public economy and circumstances at
school is often mentioned. In this respect Sweden has an advantage over much of
the surrounding world in that substantial investment in the education system is
possible. Economic factors have limited effect on schools' opportunities to act.

This has, for example, meant that computers and networks (the Internet connections)
are available in Swedish schools to a considerable extent2. Consequently we have
obtained new routes and environments where information can be conveyed and
dialogues conducted. Our ingrained opinions on studies and teaching are challenged
by the opportunities offered by digitalisation and high-speed networks for the transfer
of information. The enormous potential of new technologies within other sectors of
society mean that the expectations on their rolls in school are also very high. They
are expected to be useful in the prevailing schoolwork as well as serve as catalysts
for change in different parts of the school system. Are the expectations realistic? If
information and communication technologies (ICT) are to occupy a large part of
school's world and if they are to have a substantial influence on studies and teaching,
then changes are necessary to the culture that school constitutes. ICT is involved in
challenges to the fundamental ideas of the school in practise and well-established
power structures in the school hierarchy.

The way we commonly encounter computer and network use out in the schools, they
would appear to be largely like sophisticated printed matter. Computers can, like text
and pictures in books and letters, allow us to distribute information and thereby
communicate with each other. The experiences of schoolchildren in California can be
spread equally well in a book compared with a computer network, albeit much more
slowly. It is the text as such, or the images, that allow us to meet other people,
authors, and share in their ideas.

The written or printed words also challenge schoolchildren's local environments. The
more the ideas and concepts of the surrounding world penetrate the classroom the
fewer are the opportunities for the teacher and classroom culture to steer the
children's world of ideas.

The new technologies have given us new means to organise, store and distribute
text, images and sounds. Following this line of reasoning it would be misleading to
refer to new technology as revolutionary. It is the information, the stored text, images

2 National Board for Education (Skolverket) updates information on computer to student ratio and
gives information on quality of the Internet connections in schools.

and sounds that have the inherent power. Through their presence, speed and
capacity the new technologies will enhance this change.

The Policy Challenge
Social currents expressed, as political ideals naturally also constitute factors that
generate expectations for change at school. In recent centuries a prominent feature
of liberal democratic thinking has been an emphasis on individual autonomy. The
concept of autonomy has varied in its meaning but central traits, in relation to young
people, have dealt with providing them with the opportunity to “test their wings”, to
experience different aspects of life, to experiment with an aim to discover their own
genuine interests and talents. Starting with knowledge of themselves they can
orientate themselves better in society, make different choices and determine the
direction of their lives.

Another political current in Sweden that influences the education field is the thought
of compensating groups in society for educational opportunities that were unavailable
to them previously. This compensatory approach has permeated our educational
system for a long time. Previously it was combined with a strong, quantitative slant
towards a human capital approach. The needs of society would be satisfied through
widespread education. The human capital approach has however, in recent times,
been superseded by one that is more focused on the individual and is based on
quality. The political base is now lifelong learning. Throughout their lives individuals
are to be able to update their knowledge and skills as well as acquire new knowledge
within new fields.

There is an interesting relationship between the two schools of thought. Not just
anyone commits herself to a lifelong project where education is a recurrent element.
It is individuals who recognise their “genuine interests and talents” who does that.
With this as a starting point people are, with the help of e.g. education, to realise their
life's goals, in other words, to become engaged in lifelong learning. The encounter
between these lines of thought represents a serious challenge for schools. Is there
sufficient scope for the development of individual autonomy in today's school?

In some respects these ideas are in strong contrast to the actual workings of the
school. The student's autonomy and the school's fixed structures conflict with one
another. School needs to reorient itself and terms like flexibility and openness have
come to characterise this reorientation. New technology can make an essential
contribution to the creation of more flexible and open structures in the education

The changes will not happen by themselves and they will not take place simply
through the introduction of new technology. The school world is obviously a large
complex of formal and informal rules, firmly anchored traditions and approaches,
knowledge etcetera and aspects of these must be challenged. We have to discover
the future and attempt to understand how to reach it. What can more flexible and
open educational systems look like? How do we have to change school to get there?
What potential rolls can the new technologies play in this?

From Focus on Facts to Flexible Learning
Facts, Information and Knowledge
What is knowledge and how does one actually acquire it? In the discussion of
information and communication technology (ICT) and its roles in education the terms
knowledge and information are often used as synonyms. It is essential to attempt to
differentiate between these two concepts.

In the physical world around us there are things and events. They are tangible and
can be heard, touched and/or seen. Certain phenomena are of another character.
Thoughts and ideas, for example, are not commonly possible to see or touch.
Common to these different phenomena is that they, to be available to us, must be
interpreted. If we are personally present we can experience things or be directly
exposed to ideas and perform the interpretation ourselves. If we are to be exposed
“second hand” the facts about the thing or thoughts must first become information.
Information is stored in books, images, TV programmes, CDs, databases etc.

Teaching is to some extent about allowing students to discover or encounter
phenomena or to have access to information about phenomena. Teaching, studying
and learning involve, in other words, direct reality or the stored information, reality
represented in different media, as its source. Teaching is also about providing the
opportunity to process information. The most central feature is that teaching is to
contribute to the transformation (or perhaps better translation) of information into

According to this line of reasoning the concept of knowledge should be reserved to
indicate something that the individual carries. It encompasses an intellectual and an
emotional dimension as well as a readiness to act. The concept can involve having
incorporated facts on different phenomena. Knowledge can also mean that the
students recognise connections between different phenomena, that they can
understand an idea. One can have more or less facts and facts can be more or less
closely related to the phenomenon they describe. Understanding on the other hand
has primarily a qualitative meaning. People can understand in different ways.
Knowledge can also imply preparedness when faced with different situations and the
skills to be able to act in them. Being prepared also means, for example, that one can
assess how and when one is to act.

The concepts mentioned here form a chain where the critical links are primarily found
in “the space between the concepts”. The events that result in facts becoming
information and information becoming knowledge are challenging. How are facts to
be interpreted in a reasonable manner in order to become reliable information? This
is a vital issue in the production of teaching materials and development of lessons.
How are the students to take in the information and turn it into knowledge? The core
of teaching will be to contribute to this process, that is to say to actual learning, by
providing opportunities to process the information. Processing becomes part of the
learning process itself. This can involve the reception and internalisation of facts but
the achievement of understanding is founded on the individual's active interplay with
the surrounding world.

Teaching, Learning and Flexibility
The concepts of education and learning encompass a provider perspective and an
individual perspective. The provider, the school and teacher, is the one who arranges
and conducts the education. From the student perspective the encounter with
education is a matter of study and learning. How does school usually act in the
provision of education and thereby provide space for study and learning?

A dominant pattern in the school world is to regard teaching, studies and learning as
a transfer process. Knowledge is something that, via a transaction, is to move from
the one with the knowledge to the one who is lacking that knowledge. The classic
example has the teacher standing in the classroom, lecturing, and the knowledge is
carried through classroom odours and chalk dust to the pupil who receives the
knowledge. In many respects this view characterises the approaches to learning and
its prerequisites in many aspect of the school world, that the teacher is often active
and the pupil passive is one expression of this. The abundance of lecture theatres
can be taken as an expression of the underlying pattern. In the environment where
teachers are trained the learning is most often expected to happen via a transaction
from the instructors to the students.

In contrast to this approach is the pattern that emphasises the significance of one's
own experience as a basis for learning. People's experience forms them and to
develop and learn they must encounter what is to be learned in real (or simulated)
situations. Perhaps this is better expressed as experiencing something that is then
integrated with previous experience. After such an encounter the student is “enriched
by the experience” and has therefore learnt something. Laboratory lessons, school
kitchens and natural-history specimens in our schools are evidence of this approach
in our views on learning.

Another pattern can be discerned. The background is presumably to be found in the
confusion in the concepts of knowledge and information, a misunderstanding covered
in the previous section. In this approach knowledge breaks into pieces with
information and the educator's task is to provide these and the student's task is to
receive them. Certain branches of psychological research handle learning based on
this type of pattern. We can also see this in teaching materials that break the subject
into small components and we encounter it in classroom situations. Who born during
the 1940s and '50s does not remember plodding through stanzas of hymns? In
fortunate cases the lines are still remembers but was that learning? What knowledge
was acquired?

I have indicated three different working methods that are used in teaching and
thereby also demonstrated three approaches concerning how learning is done.
Naturally it is not possible to claim that one line of thought is more correct than
another. This of course depends on the purpose of the teaching and studying, what
knowledge is to be acquired. Is it a matter of knowing about the car's gearbox, name
all its parts, dismantle it and put it back together correctly or is it to use it for its
intended purpose while driving?

The new technologies can have roles in teaching and studying regardless of which
pattern of thought is behind the learning. Naturally they will have different roles in
different learning processes and when knowledge goals differ. ICT can be an

information bank, reference book and textbooks. It can link us with reality or a student
in a practical situation can have contact with the school environment. Experience and
interplay with others can lead us to understanding in different contexts. ICT can also
be an inexhaustible partner for “cramming” a psalm. The strength of the machines
now moving into the classroom is that they have the capacity to do all of this. They
can even be available to the students on their way to and from school, during study
visits, when doing homework or on spring break. The can meet the demands of the
night owl as well as the early bird. When the individual has full-time access to ICT it
can foremost provide a discussion forum where thoughts and ideas can be tested.
Through interaction with other there can be growth in learning and knowledge.

What ICT can help us with is the broadening of the repertoire for teaching and
studying, to realise flexible learning. Working methods for teaching and studying
supported by ICT increase the space available for student initiative. This space can
involve two dimensions, a spatial and a time-based. Computers and networks make it
possible to have contact with people and environments throughout much of the world.
The contact can occur simultaneously or with a time delay. It is also commonly
possible to easily access information stored in the most disparate locations. All this
can essentially be done at any time. When students want to contact their teachers
there will naturally be limitations but much of the work to be completed can be done
without regard to library hours, the teacher's schedule and available classroom

Even aspects of the structure of teaching can be woven into the concept flexible
learning. If the two previous aspects concerned flexibility in time and space then this
can concern the degree to which teaching and teaching materials allow liberty in the
students' way of studying. Such a dimension can be imagined to move from stiff, rigid
solutions to ones that permit flexibility. Embedded in this is that teaching and studying
move from something we can refer to as Instruction towards something we can call

Instruction is then the pattern demonstrated in teaching situations where the teacher
is generally the most active in presenting the subject and explaining it. The student's
role is primarily that of recipient. The subject matter is systematically organised and
the teaching is structured. Teaching that is conducted in this fashion is presumably
based on the idea that knowledge is to be transmitted from the teacher to the
students, in other words, the transaction model discussed above.

Construction involves another pattern. Primary here is an emphasis on the
relationship between activity and the development of knowledge and therefore the
students should be active. The students experience different phenomena themselves
and therefore gain better information about them and their relation to different
contexts. A student incorporates the new experiences to earlier and forms her
understanding of it, learning takes place and new concepts are constructed and
understood. When knowledge is formed, the encounter between personal
experiences and ideas and those of others plays a significant role, interaction with
other learners, friends and relatives and teachers can be examples of that. The
teacher's task in such a context will foremost be to create learning situations as well
as to be a guide and provide support in the problem-solving processes.

Through the line of reasoning presented above I have attempted to demonstrate
several different angles of approach to the concepts of teaching, studying and
learning. On the one hand the relationship between teaching, learning and
knowledge is problematised. On the other hand I have tried to focus different
perspectives learning. With the school and the teacher as the starting point for
discussion certain aspects become more visible and prominent. With the focus on the
individual student other aspects become more significant. Figure 1 presents an
illustration of this.

                           Individual perspective

                                                    Flexible learning


                         Provider perspective

Figure 1. An attempt to illustrate development from “school teaching” to flexible

If we move in the dimension teaching towards studying and learning and from
provider to individual student we move at the same time from one working style with
a focus on instruction to one with a focus on construction. The view that learning is a
transaction process is toned down in favour of one where personal experience is the
basis for learning. If we add the potentials provided by ICT to e.g. move out of the
classroom into reality, to work in different pace, with study mates in different parts of
the world, we can achieve flexible learning.

Flexible Learning as a Challenge
The sketches of teaching and studying, drawn up in this article, diverge in many
respects from the firmly established working methods in one of society's oldest

institutions, school. The individual's way to reach her learning, the teacher's work and
the actual education systems and their organisations can be developed in these new
directions. Breaking down the old through concrete action will be difficult and perhaps
in some respects dramatic. It is not only firmly established views on learning and how
knowledge is developed that are challenged. Many parts of the entire school culture
will be influenced. Working methods will have to be subordinate to the content and to
differences between the students. Instead of teachers working solo it will require co-
ordinated teams composed of a variety of specialists (subject specialists at school,
librarians, method specialists at school, specialists from the surrounding world, ICT
specialists). Rather than “distributing textbooks and turns to talk” the task of schools
will be to guide students in the library, museums and cyberspace.

Which are the different factors behind this? Three phenomena constitute sources of
power for a development that education systems, teaching and studying is expected
to undergo, a development that could be more or less dramatic. The sources for
change are technology, policy and pedagogics. The challenges they present us can
be summarised in the concepts of meaning, diversity and power shift. Each of these
phenomenon to some extent influence development towards diversity as well as to
meaning and to power shift. They also form pairs where technology is a driving force
and promotes development towards diversity, pedagogics support progress towards
a greater emphasis on meaning in learning and policy steers educational
organisation towards a redistribution of power in the education systems.

In some of the experimental undertakings with ICT in schools the models for teaching
have been obtained from the classical classroom environment. The classroom
extends farther with the assistance of ICT. Brought to this extended classroom are
many of the traditional, familiar and well-established working methods. The computer
or television screen becomes the teacher's desk. Time and effort is spent conveying
the subject matter while dialogue and interaction, which can be the path to learning,
are subordinated. Therefore, an extended classroom is not an ideal means to
increase the degree of meaning in schoolwork.

The concept meaning is used here in the sense of understanding, deep-learning. It
refers to a vision that is based on belief that educational theory and our knowledge of
how learning takes place is to have more influence when education and teaching are
organised. In other words, meaning represents a pedagogical- didactic perspective,
an interlinking of the classroom with the praxis schoolwork shall illustrate and an
interlinking of teaching's form and outcome. Interplay like dialogue and interaction
must be promoted as a central feature of all teaching.

Educational theory is to a very low degree normative. It does not prescribe definite,
carefully delineated solutions to the different problems in teaching. The nature of the
subject matter, the goal of the education and, for example, the characteristics of the
students determine how to deal with a particular case. On the other hand, what
theory does indicate is that learning is supported if teaching and studying provide the
students with a multitude of opportunities for interaction with others. It also indicates
that the development of knowledge is qualitatively improved if the studies are
conducted in the contexts where the knowledge is to be applied. In both examples
educational theory provides technology with a role. Technology increases

possibilities for interaction and allows students to move their studies to practical
undertakings where the knowledge is to be employed. We are heading towards
heightened meaning in teaching and studying.

Accordingly meaning adds a pedagogical-didactic perspective to the concept of
flexible learning. Development of knowledge, learning, is promoted, as the central
feature of education and in teaching as such dialogue and interplay become the most
central phenomena.

A small number of organisational forms for education, teaching and studying are on
their way to develop into a large and varied range. The boundaries between working
methods in different educational systems are also on their way towards dissolution.
Students can, at least theoretically, take courses offered by different organisers. A
subject that is not available in one place can be obtained elsewhere. Studies can be
conducted at a distance. Individuals or groups of students can in certain subjects
(language, mathematics) work towards databases that adjust the pace of studying
and the content based on the students' prerequisites and circumstances. Studies can
be moved to environments that link the children's questions with the reality that
provides the answers. It is foremost technical development that will make this
diversity possible. Technology has contributed new rooms for teaching and studying
and this, in turn, promotes the development towards diversity.

Hence, diversity supplied the concept of flexible learning with a pedagogical-
organisational perspective. Traditional working methods in education are blended
with new ones. The point in time, pace, study paths, study environments and sources
of information will vary in the teaching.

If education is increasingly organised based on the circumstances of the students
then power is moved from the education system to the individual. The relationship
between student and teacher will be affected.

For a long time the teacher has had power over what occurs in the classroom. The
teacher has selected the subject matter and conveyed it via lessons and the selection
of literature. The teacher has set the timetable for the work and thereby prescribed a
given course of study. The teacher has therefore had power over the students' time
and over the content of their work. If the students choose the starting point for their
work then the power relationship between teachers and students will be altered. The
presentation of the subject matter can perhaps be packaged into ready-made
teaching materials or selected from newspapers, web environments or such like. The
task of presenting the subject matter can in many cases be taken from the teacher. If
the studies are conducted with far-reaching individualisation the student will be the
one who controls the pace and course of study. Initiative and control functions will
shift from teacher to student.

Power adds an educational-political perspective to the concept flexible learning. The
students gain more opportunities to make choices and influence their studies and
these represents a redistribution of power from provider to student.

Flexible learning in practise
The following section presents four examples of the practical consequences for
schools when the organisation and working methods have been adapted for flexible
learning. Some of this has already been introduced in different schools around the
world. Research programmes have been initiated at several locations to study such
working methods and their effects.

To own the starting point for studies
A classic problem in the school world concerns motivation for studying. When small
children begin school they are often described as energetic, happy and curious.
Descriptions a few years later usually depict a loss of interest. The internal
motivation that has fuelled their curiosity has slackened. One possible explanation
for this course of events is that the children during their first years at school discover
that they are lacking the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity. As the school years
pass there is a diminishing, for many children, in the space available for exploring
that, which interests them most. Others formulate the problems that schoolwork is to
address. People other than themselves determine the starting point for studies and
the individual lose autonomy and thereby an important driving force in schoolwork.
The simple connection here is, in other words, that insufficient motivation could be
explained by the loss of control over where one is headed and the path to reach the

Allowing the students to determine the direction of schoolwork to a considerable
extent demands a school characterised by diversity. One consequence of extensive
individualisation is that the majority of children will be doing different things. Each one
chooses his or her own direction and maps out the path, naturally assisted by the
teacher. This makes tough demands on access to information and until today schools
have had little possibility to adopt such working methods.

The school library, as well as the opportunities for study visits, have played an
important role but are not sufficient resources reach that diversity. Schoolbooks
contain answers to ready-made questions but perhaps entirely different from the
questions that are of interest to the students. Having access to ICT means the
children themselves can gather information on different circumstances that interest
them. They can more easily peruse the library's resources and employ them more
effectively. Via networks and computer screens they can visit different environments
and obtain material from information databases.

The teacher will face many and partially new tasks in a process of this type. Perhaps
the most important task will be to give the pupils the tools to analyse the information
they gather. Seeing relationships between material from different sources and
maintaining a critical attitude to assertions, factual information and images is difficult.
These complex tasks require knowledge and training. At the same time, these are the
types of skills needed by every individual in a society abounding with information.
This type of knowledge is usually referred to as meta-knowledge, knowledge of how
to develop knowledge. The teacher naturally plays a very central role in this work.
The teacher's focus will be to provide support in difficult selection processes and to
train the students in the criticism and analysis of the collected material. The core
features of the teaching role do not change however, to accept responsibility for and
contribute to the intellectual development of each pupil.

The school as base camp
When small children start school they, in several respects, constitute a more
homogenous group than they will ever be later. The overwhelming majority needs to
acquire fundamental skills in arithmetic they need to train reading and writing. They
also need to encounter and understand education and learning as phenomena. The
first few years of schooling in the future will for most children be very similar to the
activities of today's schools. When the children possess the most elementary tools for
working in a world of information they can to an increasing degree influence the
direction of their schoolwork.

As the goals of schoolwork vary the children will leave the fixed format we are
accustomed to seeing in today's school. The school and classroom will become a
base camp for undertakings that are otherwise spread to many places. Some
children will be at home doing self-study other will be studying special topics at
libraries and museums. Many children will visit environments that illustrate the fields
of knowledge that interest them. The children will go to the information, to places
where knowledge of different phenomena is formed instead of encountering
knowledge in its abstract form. A substantial number of the visits will be made with
the help of computers and networks. The children can exploit reality like a textbook,
search extensive databases and go to other study environments.

When the students are together with the data, with the objects to be studied, they can
meet people who complement the teachers. It can be librarians, museum curators,
farm managers or nursing assistants. The schoolteacher is available to respond to
questions and reply via the network and can be together with the students by “looking
over their shoulder” via the network.

In other words, we will have a school with distributed study situations where the
children meet now and again in the “old classroom” for conversation, exchange of
experience, to collect material and similar activities. The students return to “a sense
of being at home in the base camp for enriching encounters around the campfire”.

Focus on examination forms
More informal study forms and increased opportunities for the students themselves to
direct schoolwork also demand a framework of indicators and the evaluation and
examination of student efforts. This important social institution, school, has to monitor
that the goals set forth by society are also realised and must follow the development
of each student in order to provide assistance in achieving the goals.

In the Swedish school the goals stated by society abandoned a high level of precision
a long time ago. Instead, the goals are expressed as directions in which the
development of children and young people is to progress. This involves fields such as
the ability to co-operate, tolerance and a democratic attitude. The importance of
fundamental skills in reading, writing and arithmetic are naturally included. The goal
statements are supplemented by advisory curricula, which at the local level can be
more precisely defined in the local working plans. When this is done the students and
their parents can influence the directions.

The significance of examinations in the broad sense of the term will be increasingly
greater in a school with flexible teaching and study forms. The students' motives and
prerequisites for education need to be checked to form a basis for the teacher's
advice in different situations where choices are to be made. Information on the
students' working processes and their development of knowledge must be collected
and analysed to create a foundation for genuine guidance. In doing so the students
receive feedback concerning their progress and the shortcomings that have arisen.

The open approaches also make demands on the more traditional control of results.
There must be a community interest in ensuring that the school reaches the adopted
goals for the work. There is also a need to provide information on each student so
that comparison is possible. Both potential employers and institutes of higher
education have an interest in this respect. The Swedish post-secondary educational
institutes have a so-called numerus clausus. This means that a limited number of
places are filled based on student results on a special admission test or their final
grades from secondary school. Using secondary school grades the students can be
ranked and be offered post-secondary education based on their ranking among the
applicants. More extensive use of the admission test or other admission criteria for
post-secondary education would likely result in a partial change in the form the
schools on secondary level employ to control results.

Individualisation towards greater heterogeneity
What this article presents is a conceivable development that questions values at the
same time. A development towards greater diversity in study forms and study paths,
increased emphasis on content and meaning in schoolwork and greater power to the
student poses, at the same time, challenges to fundamental aspects of the ideologies
that have steered the Swedish school. In Sweden we have, through long-term reform
work, created a school that is carried by the idea that different children are held
together in groups. Yes, the children are often similar with respect to age and
housing area, but in all other respects they are different. By using the term “different
children” in this context I mean that they in all probability have different interests, are
of different genders, they come from different subculture in society, they have
different physical and mental capacities for schoolwork. There is no value judgement
implied. It is neither good nor bad. It is the actual circumstance.

If school children are given greater opportunity to direct their studies, to conduct them
at a varied pace, to exploit support outside of school for their knowledge
development, to use different applied environments to test their knowledge etc then
what we have is a high degree of individualisation of studies. This also means, at the
same time, the differences between children will become more manifest. The
students will move in different directions and at different rates. We can have groups
of students of varying ages but who share one or more fields of interest. We can
have single-gender groups that assemble around an issue that is divided along
gender lines. Children from one subculture can group together on a common issue.

Anticipated and perhaps even desirable changes concerning diversity, meaning and
power shift in the education system will emphasise individualisation and challenge
the notion of the coherent group in the Swedish school. Individualisation of study
direction, study paths, study pace will lead to more heterogeneous student groups.

This is in conflict with the equality rhetoric in the Swedish school. Are we ready to
have that discussion?

Flexible learning - consequences at three levels
The Swedish school has, like other larger educational systems, demonstrated a
degree of sluggishness concerning change. A great deal remains the same from one
time to another. Parents who visit their child's classroom get a sense of returning to
their own. It is easy to recognise the environment and activities related to teaching
and studying. The system's sluggishness, for better or for worse, has many different
causes. The way of preparing teachers for their tasks via teacher training is one such
cause. The design of school buildings is another as are attitudes and working
methods burdened with the weight of hundreds of years of tradition. The list could be
made much longer.

My perception of the developments within technology, pedagogy and policy in the
school sphere is that now, at the beginning of the 21st century, there is a solid
foundation for changing the Swedish school. The major efforts in the form of
development projects at school during the past decade have presumably contributed
to heighten the readiness for change. I mean therefore that what is described in this
paper, as flexible learning will successively penetrate our educational systems. What
changes are to be accepted and how they will appear will be a question of active
choice. Regardless of which are chosen the changes will pose partially new demands
on parents, students, teachers, school administrators and other actors on the
education scene. Some of the new demands will presumably be very trying for many.
Attention must be brought to the anticipated changes and the conditions they
generate and they must be made the object of critical analysis and discussion.

The figure below contributes to a chart of the changes. I have used the terms power
shift, meaning and diversity to illustrate the direction change can be expected to take.
In the figure these three concepts constitute the rows in a table. The three columns
represent different levels in the education system. The first column concerns students
for whom the redistribution of power, heightened meaning and greater diversity can
be made concrete in certain new relationships. In the second column I have
endeavoured to exemplify the consequences this will have for each school. The third
column illustrates the effects and measures that need to be implemented at the upper
level of public authorities, e.g. by Skolverket (National Agency for Education) or other
central, co-ordinating authorities, not the least the one I myself is engaged in
Nationellt centrum för flexibelt lärande (Swedish Agency for Flexible Learning)3.


                          Student                   Provider                   Authority
                                                -   adapt premises         -    make events and
                      -   select pace,          -   adapt working               changes visible
                          working methods,          methods                -    facilitate desirable
    Power                 information           -   develop new
                                                    strategies             -
                                                                                change, catalyst
                                                                                develop new
                      -   work from home
     shift            -   study courses from
                          other schools
                                                -   expertise
                                                    development            -
                                                                                systems of rules
                                                                                develop teacher
                                                -   competition                 training
                      -   …
                                                    between schools        -    expertise
                      -   start with own        -   new tasks for          -    interplay with the
                          question!                 teachers                    practice
                      -   study where the       -   train advisors in           environments
                          “data” is                 practice               -    initiate, support
                      -   opportunities to          environments                teaching material
  Meaning                 test, practical
                                                -   technical support of
                                                    ICT systems            -
                                                -   classroom as base           infrastructure
                      -   increased
                                                    camp                   -    teacher training
                          opportunities for
                                                                           -    expertise
                          dialogue and

                      -   individual in focus   -   increased              -    policies and
                      -   varied study paths        heterogeneity               schools in harmony
                      -   varied study          -   homogeneity ideal      -    adaptation of
                          environments              is abandoned                systems of rules
                                                -   classroom as base      -    organisational
                      -   varied information
  Diversity               sources
                                                    students leave

                                                    school at different
                                                    points in time

Figure 2. An overview of certain of the anticipated changes due to a move towards
flexible learning.

The intention of Figure 2 is not to present a comprehensive list of the different
circumstances that can be expected to change at school due to a greater emphasis
on flexible learning. Rather, the table presents a number of examples of what is
possible to predict. Many of the examples could be placed in more than one field but
my general approach has been to insert them where I felt they were most

The figure above can serve as a summary of the article and as an outline of the
scenario I envisage in the Swedish school.