Flex your Pedagogical Muscles: Designing a Flex Learning Module

Pre-Conference Workshop Session 2

Brief Abstract

This workshop shares best practices and tools for developing and delivering flexible learning modules.  Facilitators will share strategies for differentiating resources, time, place, and interactions to match student learning styles and needs.  Participants will take the role of instructional designer, instructor, and student to plan and evaluate a flex module.   

There is a fee for this Pre-Conference Workshop: $195 Early Bird / $225 Full Price

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Tammy is a senior learning designer with Strategic Education, Inc.. In this role, she designs story-based courses in a variety of disciplines. She has been teaching in higher education, both online and face-to-face, for over ten years. Tammy holds a Ph.D. in Educational Theory and Practice with an emphasis in Instructional Technology from the University at Albany. She also holds a BA and MA in American History from the University at Albany. Her research interests include innovative delivery of story-based instruction, higher order thinking in the history classroom, alternative delivery of content to students, and the use of video in higher education. Her publications have appeared in Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning. Tammy has presented at educational conferences including Northeast Education Research Association (NERA), American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), and Northeast Regional Computing Program (NERCOMP).

Additional Authors

Extended Abstract

This workshop shares best practices and tools for developing and delivering flexible learning modules.  Facilitators will share strategies for differentiating resources, time, place, and interactions to match student learning styles and needs.  Workshop participants will be asked to put themselves in the roles of instructional designer, student, and instructor as they move through the process of planning, implementing, and reflecting on the design of a flexible learning module. 

Upon completion of the workshop, participants will be able to:

  1. Define flex learning, its purposes and goals, and examine how it might fit into their classroom
  2. Identify the major steps, tools, and stumbling blocks of designing a flex learning environment
  3. Develop a flex learning module by taking on the roles of instructional designer, instructor, and student

Background: Flex Learning is a newer form of course delivery, affording students and faculty more opportunities for individualized teaching and learning. Hill (2006) defines flexible learning as “concerned primarily with facilitating the individual student’s learning process. The goal is to provide quality learning experiences through consideration of the learner’s personal characteristics, learning styles, work responsibilities, learning needs and desires, and personal circumstances” (p. 188-9).  Key aspects of flexible learning include student choice in: 1) what is learned, 2) where learning occurs, 3) when learning occurs, and 4) how learning occurs.   In a literature review on differentiated instruction Tomlinson (2003) notes that the “goal of effective instruction seems to be adequate flexibility in a teacher’s mode of presentation and in a student’s options for learning and expressing learning so that an individual can generally find a match for his or her learning-profile preferences….  In that way, a greater number of learners should be able to capitalize on their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses” (p. 131). 

This workshop draws from two years of experience flexing course modules for advanced pharmacy calculations.  The presenters are a partnership of instructor and instructional designer who designed and implemented flex learning modules for pharmacy calculations in a large pharmacy skills course. The re-design to the flex model began in recognition of the diverse student needs in the class as well as an increasingly crowded curriculum that allowed less time for remediation each year. In this flex learning environment, content and activities are delivered and accessed both online and face-to-face.  Students have the choice, each module, to attend either the regularly scheduled class session, access the asynchronous online resources, or both.  This design allowed instructors to differentiate learning for students. In a literature review on differentiated instruction, Tomlinson et al. (2003) found that attention to students’ learning styles through flexible teaching helped to improve learning gains.  The hallmarks of effective differentiation, they argue, include: 1) proactive rather than reactive differentiation, 2) flexible use of small groups, 3) variation of materials, and 4) learner-centered pedagogy. 

Workshop Activities: After learning the underlying principles of flexible learning environments, participants will break into small groups where they will collaborate on the design of a flexible module for an assigned topic. Facilitators will bring participants through the design, implementation and review of a flexible learning module, using the small group activities.  First, participants will design a flex module by taking the perspective of an instructional designer.  Second, they will evaluate the plan from the perspective of various students.  Third, they will plan strategies to enact and support the flex learning module from the perspective of the instructor. Within each stage of the process, the presenters will share their own relevant experiences and lessons learned. The workshop will wrap up with small group proposals for tools that would aid their flex learning design.

Outline for the Workshop:

1.Welcome and Introductions

2.Flexible Learning

a.Goals and Purpose

b.Types of flexible teaching and learning

c.Small Group Activity – Flex this lesson (Instructional Designer)

3.Our Flex Modules

a.Goals and Purpose

b.Planning and Implementation

c.Small Group Activity – Taking a seat in a flex classroom (Student Role)

4.Lessons Learned

a.Preparation ahead of time is essential

b.Structure, Organize, and Repeat, repeat, repeat

c.Foster student self-regulation

d.Give ample time

e.Send out reminders

f.Small Group Activity – Help our students (Instructor Role)


a.Learning Style Assessment

b.Learning Management System tools

c.Multimedia and other content delivery tools

d.Group Activity – Tool Selection (Instructional Designer, Instructor, and Student Role)

Participants will leave the workshop with a framework for designing and implementing flexible modules for their own courses. 


Hill, J. (2006).  Flexible learning environments: Leveraging the affordances of flexible delivery and flexible learning. Innovative High Education, 31, 187–197.

Tomlinson, C., et al. (2003). Differentiating Instruction in Response to Student Readiness, Interest, and Learning Profile in Academically Diverse Classrooms: A Review of Literature. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 27(2/3), pp. 119-145.