Online learning is often framed in terms of flexibility, notably flexibility to participate in education from “anyplace” at “anytime.” Flexible designs are powerful – they allow enable access and enhance participation. But, such flexibility may not be afforded to everyone equally. Put differently, flexibility as a design feature or value may make courses more flexible, may accommodate schedules, but not everyone is able to equally take advantage of such flexibility. In other words: Some people are able to exercise more flexibility in their life than others, for a variety of factors, such as financial means, family support, etc etc. We have questioned the degree to which flexibility is equitable here and here, where we have argued that we need to stop assuming that flexible learning benefits everyone equally.

In a new paper, we provide some empirical support for these arguments. Here’s the abstract:

Flexible learning removes barriers relating to time, place, and pace. While time management skills have been identified as necessary for learners to take advantage of flexible learning, relatively little is known about the temporal dimensions of flexible learning and how gender might relate to temporal flexibility and its perceived benefits. To address this gap, we analyzed data from 380,000 students participating in two massive open online courses to create a model that predicts course completion likelihood from learner time management behaviors and gender. Results supported most a priori assumptions. Successful course completers logged in frequently, devoted longer amounts of time to each session, moved quickly through course materials, and completed coursework early. However, consistent study was associated with lower course completion likelihood, and women benefited more from reduced consistency. These findings suggest that temporal flexibility may especially benefit women.

Veletsianos, G., Kimmons, R. Larsen, R., & Rogers, J. (in press). Flexibility, Time, Gender, and Online Learning Completion. Distance Education. or author’s copy.