Open education versus flexible education: Divergence and convergence

Kam Cheong Li and Helen Hoi Kuan Lam
The Open University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong SAR, China

The terms ‘open education’ and ‘flexible education’ have been closely associated for decades and often used in related contexts. Open education covers a group of educational beliefs, philosophies and practices, such as open admission and open commitment. While flexible education has generally been employed in a relatively less philosophical and technical sense, the key to flexibility has been recognized as the provision of choice.

This paper reviews the two terms by analysing their theoretical and semantic components as well as usage patterns in real-life practices. Though flexibility in educational provision is commonly considered as an integral part of open education, the two terms embody distinctive semantic senses. In addition, flexible education is practised not only in open education organizations but also institutions providing other modes of education. There has recently been a tendency to use flexible education in a more defined or technical sense, and flexibility has been applied to a variety of areas such as entry requirement, study time, syllabi, instructional approach and resources.

Taking into account the trends in both open learning and conventional institutions, this paper highlights the phenomenon that both types of educational establishments are enhancing their level of flexibility in a broad array of their teaching and learning provisions. The line between open and conventional education is becoming blurred. It is also argued that educational flexibility is where open and conventional educational modes converge.