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Fleximode in the WA TAFE system

Dorothy Toussaint
Curriculum Branch, TAFE WA

Traditionally there have been two main methods of organising instruction for students within WA TAFE. These are face to face teaching for on campus students at the college, and teaching by correspondence for off campus students at TAFE External Studies College (TES). Fleximode, which is a preplanned combination of on and off campus study, was used in a number of subjects within TAFE during 1989, in order to compare the cost and effectiveness of fleximode with the traditional methods of teaching and to identify possible organisational and administrative problems. The project was funded by the TAFE National Centre for Research and Development.

Fleximode was introduced into the Australian TAFE system by Brian Scorgie of the Gordon College of TAFE (Victoria) in 1978. It was adapted from a mode of study pioneered by the Barnet College of Further Education, UK, in 1977 as an attempt to improve the traditional type of correspondence course.

In the Barnet College model, termed "flexistudy", the student is given a learning package which consists of correspondence materials, tutorials, pre-enrolment counselling, assessment and marking, regular access to advice and support and the use of college facilities and services. Tutors are paid on a case load basis with approximately 15 minutes per week allowed for each flexistudy student. Details about the Barnet College operation can be found in an NEC college report (1980).

In Victoria the system operates slightly differently. Many colleges have an off campus or distance education unit at the college so they are in an ideal position to offer fleximode. When fleximode enrolments are formally offered, costs are shared between the on campus unit for face to face teaching and the off campus unit which does the enrolment, counselling, administration and marking. Marking is paid at half the rate of usual external studies assignments, based on the premise that the student is seeing the lecturer at regular intervals and therefore does not require as much detailed feedback. The particular combination of on and off campus study used depends on the college.

An evaluation of fleximode in four Victorian colleges was carried out by Ashurst (1986), through interviews with staff and students' questionnaires, but no hard data on results, retention rate and costing was given. Similarly, no such data has been reported from Britain. The present study set out to remedy this.

Within WA, six fleximode programmes were identified for evaluation. Four of these programmes were delivered as a variation from face to face delivery and the others were adapted from correspondence delivery. The programmes which were variations from on campus college delivery were

The programmes which were variations from off campus delivery at TAFE External Studies were All lecturers were interviewed and for five programmes, students were given a questionnaire in order to compare delivery modes and assess their effectiveness from the point of view of both lecturers and students.

In this paper it is intended to describe only two of these programmes, Accounting 1A and the child care subjects, as they illustrate some important aspects of fleximode delivery. Results of the other programmes and details about the method of evaluation can be found in Toussaint (in press).

Accounting lA

Accounting lA is a subject taught in a number of different courses within TAFE, and is basically an introduction to accountancy. It was selected as a fleximode subject primarily because it had the highest student enrolment among the award course subjects for 1987 (4070 students), theoretically making it easier to find a group of students willing to take the subject by fleximode and thus introducing the component of choice missing from the other subjects. In addition, external studies material was currently available.

As it happened, it was more difficult than anticipated to find a college willing to take part in the programme. Six colleges which had suitable student numbers were approached, but not one of these had staff who were interested in taking part in the programme. Finally, after some negotiation, one college and a teacher volunteered only a day or so prior to enrolment day. Consequently there was not enough time to advise students, or the teachers enrolling students, as to what fleximode delivery actually entailed. Also the teacher was not given adequate staff development. This exercise identified one of the problems associated with fleximode acceptance by colleges and lecturers.

An external studies package developed by TES was used, to be adapted for fleximode by the lecturer. Fleximode students received half the normal class time, or four hours every second week. As there were two fleximode classes, the lecturer taught every week. The programme was organised in this way so that it fitted more easily into the college programme. No other method of organisation was acceptable to the college.

Accounting lA was evaluated in three different ways.

Table 1 indicates the results in terms of retention rate and final results. There were no significant differences.

Table 1: Retention rate and final results of the Accounting IA classes

FleximodeTraditional classes

Original N*36292321
Still attending 30/4/89
Percent of original N
Sat for exam
Percent of original N
9 n.s.
Final results
standard deviation
78.78 n.s.

* This is based on the number of students who actually began classes. Students who enrolled but did not attend any classes were not included.

A telephone survey of students in all four classes who had withdrawn halfway through the semester was also carried out. Students were asked an open ended question, "Why did you withdraw?" as well as being asked to rate various factors influencing withdrawal.

There were only seven fleximode students and 28 students from traditional classes who responded to the questionnaire, therefore statistical comparisons were difficult to make. Response rates and factors that could influence reasons for withdrawal, such as academic background, were similar for all groups of students. However, although about half of the students in both groups perceived their withdrawal from classes to be associated in some way with their employment, about the same proportion of fleximode students (four out of seven) had problems that could have been associated with the mode of delivery, eg teaching methods, difficulty of subject matter, etc compared with only 18 percent of students in the traditional classes.

Table 2 is a comparison of costs between delivery systems. There were lower costs per student for fleximode ($70.02 per student) compared with traditional classes ($93.97 per student) and correspondence teaching ($142.07 per student).

Table 2: Comparative costs of delivering Accounting IA by
traditional classes, correspondence and fleximode

Cost ComponentsTraditional classesCorrespondenceFleximode

On campus teaching68 hr x $29.94 = $2035.92Nil34 hr x $29.94 = $1017.96
Off campus teachingNil11 lessons x 29 students x 35 min per lesson = $3524.948 hr x $29.94 = $239.52
Resource materialNil$413.54$423.98
Contingency costs per student$6.18 x 29 students = $179.22$6.26 x 29 students = $181.5450% of $179.22 = $89.61
Capital costs of classroomLoss of opportunity costs: $30.00 x 17 evenings = $510.00NilLoss of opportunity costs: $30.00 x 9 evenings = $270.00

Total costs$2725.14$4120.03$2041.07

Costs per student$93.97$142.07$70.38

Students' comparisons of delivery modes

Four students had had previous experience with correspondence and all preferred fleximode, due to the added teacher and class contact. Fifteen of the students made comparisons between fleximode and traditional classes. Four students saw no advantages with fleximode, whereas, of the remainder, one believed learning by oneself improved retention and the others mentioned benefits associated with less class attendance and being able to work at their own pace.

Disadvantages mentioned varied between students. Three students saw no disadvantages in fleximode in comparison with face to face classes. Six students mentioned problems of having to be more self motivated and organised and the remainder cited problems in understanding the material due to reduced contact with a teacher.

In response to the question, "If the college offered another subject by fleximode again, would you choose fleximode, traditional classes or correspondence?", the rating was even, with ten students choosing classes and ten choosing fleximode.

Lecturer's comments

The lecturer believed fleximode to be preferable to correspondence teaching for students and teachers because of the face to face contact and ability to obtain immediate feedback about problems and difficulties. Compared with face to face teaching, however, the lecturer saw no advantages for a teacher at all. It seemed more class time was spent teaching and there was much more marking to do. Students were not getting time to practise applications of the theory. It was also difficult to build up a rapport with the students.

Questioning revealed that when the lecturer had previously taught Accounting lA by the traditional classroom method, about half of the four hour time slot each week had been spent actually teaching and the rest of the time students were able to do practical work, ask questions and so on. When delivering the subject by fleximode, the lecturer reported that much more of the time in class was spent teaching. As the students had not been in class for two weeks, time was first of all taken up with revision. Presenting the new material then took up most of the time that was left, although time was left, if possible, to answer questions and allow students to complete practical assignments. The lecturer admitted that he seemed to be trying to cover the entire course in half the time, rather than allotting certain sections for students to cover by themselves.

One of the main reasons for this could be that Accounting lA is an introductory subject and the student has to master a number of basic concepts. When the lecturer found students were not doing this by themselves he had to teach them in the traditional manner. This seems to indicate that either the self study materials were not written well enough to allow students to master these concepts, or the students did not have adequate study skills or the motivation to do so. As the materials used by the student were written for teaching by correspondence, one would expect that they would be more than adequate for students who were also attending classes. However, comments by the teacher and the students indicated that the correspondence materials (principally the allocated textbook) did contain a number of errors and were in need of revision to bring them up to date. (This external studies package has since been replaced). The problem therefore may have been with the materials.

It could also be because, as Accounting lA is an introductory subject, it is not ideally suited to either correspondence or fleximode and can be taught more effectively in the classroom situation. When this project was in the planning stage it was suggested by a senior lecturer in TES that, if Accounting lA were to be taught by fleximode, the students should be given an introductory period of 12 hours (three weeks of four hours) in which the lecturer could ensure all the students understood the basic concepts before giving them material to study by themselves. However, this did not fit the college timetable and therefore the system of attending every two weeks was adopted.

The lecturer concluded by saying that fleximode was a worthwhile alternative to traditional classroom teaching for certain subjects and students. He would be prepared to teach fleximode again but only if he planned it well in advance and could choose the way it was organised.

Associate Diploma of Social Science (Child Care)

The Associate Diploma of Social Science (Child Care) is a course studied by those working in the child care field, taught by traditional classes in some colleges and externally in regional areas. This external course is unique in WA TAFE because it is developed and delivered by the TAFE Community Care Studies Department rather than TES. The external course is actually a fleximode course where students work from a study guide and complete assignments off campus but also participate in planned on campus activities such as tutorials, workshops, lectures, etc.

It was decided that, for this particular project, two subjects, Play and Learning 1 and Language 2 would be selected from this course and delivered to metropolitan students studying part time. Students studying the part time course are working but also have to attend classes for approximately eight hours (two nights of four hours each week). This is a big time commitment and students are often tired after working all day.

It was believed that delivering two subjects by fleximode would allow the students to do the majority of their study at times more convenient to them. Students were given a study guide and assignments for each subject, an introductory session and four 4-hour tutorials (two hours for each subject). They were also expected to complete the assignments set for the traditional classes.

Comparisons were made between the 1989 fleximode class and the 1988 class who had studied the subjects in traditional classes. There were originally 13 students in the fleximode class but three students left in the first month for reasons unassociated with the course. The retention rate of the 1988 class was unknown. Exam results of both groups were comparable. (Table 3).

Table 3: Final results of the child care students: fleximode class and traditional class

Subject and type of class(N)mean s.d.HighLow

Play and Learning 1:
1988 Traditional Class
1989 Fleximode Class

Language 2:
1988 Traditional Class
1989 Fleximode Class

The lecturer was also extremely impressed with the students' assignments and remarked that for one particular major assignment, those submitted by the fleximode group were the best she had ever seen.

Cost comparisons were not carried out because the lecturer was given the same teaching time she would have been given if teaching traditionally. She believed this to be equitable according to the time spent processing the extra assignments. It cost $400 to prepare the study materials for each subject. If used by 20 classes (4 groups of students over 5 years) this would mean a cost of $20 per class. Thus the extra cost of preparing off campus study materials appears to be balanced by a lower usage of a classroom and facilities.

Students in both groups were asked to rate their satisfaction with the course. There was a trend in both groups for students to be more satisfied with Play and Learning 1 compared with Language 2 (which is more theoretical and students generally find theory more difficult). The fleximode class tended to give a high satisfaction rating to Play and Learning 1 and the traditional class to Language 2, but this was a trend only, with numbers too small to test statistically. Five students in the fleximode group would have preferred more teacher and class contact.

However, it was interesting that the most frequent comments made about the courses by students were the same, regardless of the mode of delivery. On the positive side, with Play and Learning, students most frequently said the material was easy to understand and put into practice. With Language 2, students most frequently enjoyed the practical aspects of the subject. The most frequent negative comment from both groups about both subjects was the amount of work required. It would appear that the mode of delivery did not affect the essential nature of the subjects.

Results of the fleximode students' comparison between delivery modes were similar to results from Accounting lA, that is, fleximode was preferable to correspondence because of face to face teacher contact. Compared to classes, more self discipline was required but this was balanced by the advantage of less class attendance and the chance to study in one's own time and place. Two students believed off campus learning to be more effective.

It involves more personal participation and more thinking and will undoubtedly remain.
All students were women working full time in child care and half had dependent children at home. Two of these believed it would have been easier to go to classes than negotiate for time to study at home.
My husband still wants to talk. The children want my attention. I can't say nick off. I'm busy.

[With classes] at 5.30 I leave chaos when I close the door. The meat's in the fridge, see you later.

However, when asked to choose between the three modes of delivery, all students chose fleximode. For the second choice, five students chose classes and four chose correspondence.

Lecturer's comparisons of delivery modes

This lecturer was quite enthusiastic about the concept of fleximode. Unlike Accounting 1A, the course was structured for fleximode delivery. The students covered most of the material by themselves. Classes were used to discuss problems and assignments, to reinforce what they had already studied through another medium such as a video and to discuss and to practise applications of the course material.

The lecturer found that, compared with traditional classes, the students tended to be more "constructive with the way they used their classtime - use every minute of it." She also found it easier to discuss theoretical concepts as the students had previously worked through many of these by themselves. In the traditional classes "usually students confuse one another". The students' written communication skills improved with fleximode and the assignment work was of a high standard.

The main problem for the students was they had to become more self disciplined and, due to less frequent classes, the teacher was unable to give them the same direct feedback to problems that might arise during the course of work and study.

The lecturer also found building up rapport with the students took longer. Observation of the tutorials indicated that discussions did not flow until towards the end of the semester. In this case, also, the lecturer herself had written the fleximode version of the course. She had found it enabled her to conceptualise the total course in a way that she had not done previously. The lecturer also believed that the fleximode version of a course is a valuable resource for new lecturers and enables a team approach to course development and delivery.

There was obviously a higher degree of student and teacher satisfaction with the fleximode delivery of the child care subjects compared with Accounting lA, although student outcomes in comparison with traditional classes were similar. The factors present in the child care course yet absent in Accounting lA were

Others who have observed or participated in fleximode have also mentioned such factors. Therefore, if fleximode programmes are to become more widespread in WA, the importance of such factors should be recognised.


Ashurst, J.G. (1986). Fleximode: An evaluation of Fleximode in the Victorian TAFE Off-Campus Network in 1988. Melbourne: RMIT.

Barnet College of Further Education. (1980). Flexistudy: A manual for local colleges. National Extension College Reports. Series 2, (4.)

Toussaint, D. (1990). Fleximode in the WA TAFE System. Adelaide: TAFE National Centre for Research and Development.

Author: Dorothy Toussaint began her career as a researcher at Murdoch University in 1985. She completed a PhD in Psychology at Murdoch before joining TAFE as a full time researcher in the Curriculum Branch.

Please cite as: (1990). Fleximode in the WA TAFE system. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 305-313. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter.

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