Ivor Morgan explores the movement away from the teacher-centred approach towards personally tailored courses.
* Five students at North Lincolnshire College talked about their experiences on construction courses Marilyn Wyld, 45.
A student on the NVQ level 2 course in bricklaying. Marilyn spent seven years working as an auxiliary nurse and twelve years as an assistant in a private nursing home.She feels that many more women could be attracted to this type of course. Her course does involve some classroom work (one or two classes a week). When Marilyn was off sick for three weeks she appreciated the fact that learning packages were sent to her home. The flexible learning system enables her to read up on topics in advance of doing the practical tasks. Working in an all-male environment has not been a problem, and she tells her tutors to "treat me as one of the boys!"
Darren Robinson, 21
Studying NVQ level 2 in brickwork. Prefers flexible learning to classroom work which he feels is "too much like school". Enjoys being able to set his own learning targets: "The quicker I get it done, the quicker I get the qualifications, the quicker I get a job."
Terry MacDougal, 33
Studies for three days a week on the NVQ brickwork level 3 course. Before he became unemployed he worked as a fork lift driver, and laid tarmac. Feels that it can be embarrassing to ask a question in a classroom situation: "Students might not understand, but would not say anything." Appreciates the phased testing on the course; competence is assessed when it is "still fresh in your mind". But feels that some of the learning packages could be written in plainer language.
Daniel Harrod, 18
Taking the NVQ level 2 course in bricklaying. His father used to own a building firm and he was "brought up on a building site". Finds the learning materials on the course very helpful, and appreciates the personal attention he receives on the course. But feels that if a student "wants to be a tosser" it would be easier to do this on the present course than on one which was classroom-based. Hopes eventually to be a director of his own building firm in Lincolnshire.
Stuart Ladley, 18
Also taking the NVQ level 2 course in bricklaying. Decided to go into building when he was at primary school after watching the construction work that was taking place near his home. Prefers flexible learning to classroom based study as he "dislikes being watched all the time".
Steven Holman, 18
Another NVQ level 2 course bricklaying student. Keen to work in building since he was 13, and hopes to gain a job in site management in Lincolnshire. Appreciates being able to work at his own speed on the course but would like more classroom work on particular subjects, and finds that there can sometimes be queues to see tutors.
Katy Elliott, 17
Studying A-levels in history, English, and sociology. Hopes to read history at university. Finds that flexible-learning breaks up the monotony of classwork, and has helped with the acquisition of research skills. However, the second phase was easier than the first: it takes time to acclimatise to a new approach to study. Less motivated students tend to use the change from classroom work as a "breather".
David Coombes, 17
Studying A-levels in human biology, physical education, and sociology. Hopes to go into the Royal Air Force or to university. Sees flexible-learning as helping students to become more self-reliant in their approach to study, and encouraging individuals to acquire a broader range of skills. However, there is a tendency for less work to be done when the teacher is out of sight.
Lloyd Barker, 17
Studying A-level human biology, physical education, and sociology. Hopes to become a physiotherapist. Found that the opportunity to work independently provides a more varied learning experience. Students can be reluctant to ask questions in the conventional classroom, and flexible-learning gives opportunites for one-to-one contact with tutors. Would like to see this approach extended with perhaps three weeks out of every seven being based on independent learning.
Geoff McCave, 16
Studying A-level English, German, and sociology. Interested in a career in law or in sales. The main advantage of flexible-learning is that "it is very useful for discovering how to work on your own. If you get a job you will have to work independently. It is good for motivation skills". However the keen members of a group can end up doing most of the work.
Ali Watts, 17
Studying A-level French, mathematics, and sociology. Would like to work in educational psychology. Has found that researching topics independently makes for much greater understanding of a topic than "just listening" to a teacher. But would not like to follow a course which relied exclusively on work outside the classroom. Constant guidance from a teacher and discussion in class are vital.
Kate Wood, 18
Studying A-level Italian, performing arts, and sociology. Hopes to study drama at university. Has found that flexible-learning provides a greater range of activities (using video and CD-Rom, exploring library resources) and more opportunity to manage one's own timetable of work. But was not used to the approach initially - much depends on having good initial guidance from tutors. As a general rule "You get a lot out of it if you put a lot in. "