The Future of Learning is Flexible


Stopping off in Dubai during his tour of the University’s centres, Dr Alex Gardner-McTaggart, Senior Lecturer in educational leadership and Academic Lead for flexible transnational learning for the University of Manchester, shared his views on the University’s developing portfolio of flexible learning programmes and their contribution to the University’s mission as a TransNational Education (TNE) provider to create access to lifelong learning opportunities.

During his visit to the UAE, Dr Gardner-McTaggart also presented to a range of partners and professional audiences: teachers, teacher leaders. Alex spoke on educational leadership in the age of the Anthropocene. This is the notional epoch caused by humanity, replacing the Holocene with mankind now considered a geological force.  For future generations, the consumption of knowledge means that education and its leadership may well be the most significant societal influence upon our climate and wellbeing.

The focus of his presentation was the future of international education and its role in preparing privileged and empowered citizens and consumers for a changed world. Alex drew upon recent publications and research to explore, challenge and question notions of international education, its leadership and its potential to help protect the world.

This is also the theme of the book he is currently working on ‘Combating Global Climate and Knowledge Crises through Sustainable Educational Leadership’ (due for publication in 2024) and one of the reasons for attending the COP28 meeting in Dubai, later this year as an accredited observer from the University, to research ideas for the book.

Lifelong flexible learning

The University’s mission as a transnational education provider is clear – to create lifelong flexible learning that is inclusive, accessible, sustainable and international, preparing graduates for an increasingly digital world that demands agility, creativity, critical competency, and digital proficiency. For students to achieve their potential, the way they learn should fit their needs and interests at all stages of life, regardless of background, and whether joining the University after school, later in their career, on campus or online. The team is working alongside students and staff to transform teaching and learning, bringing future benefits to the global community – by taking the University to them.

This commitment to supporting learners throughout their lifetime means expanding the lifelong learning portfolio, working with partners to give learners the skills they need to progress throughout their careers and lives by creating new pathways into higher education and new ways to access learning – from bite-sized learning to modular, stackable degrees that fit around learners' work or personal commitments. Rich, accessible educational experiences are made possible by combining the best elements of face-to-face and digital learning to create accessible and inclusive learning activities and materials, developed with experts in educational design.

Change of approach to teaching

The University is changing its approach to teaching delivery across three areas - flexibility and greater choice over where, when and at what pace they learn; future digital learning tools to provide a seamless and accessible experience; preparing people for a digital future - offering all students and staff support to develop or enhance their digital skills

The future is blended, flexible and accessible – and it’s already happening. For example, a new innovation space has been created where staff and students can trial new ways of teaching and learning. They are exploring new pathways into higher education, such as short courses stacked together to build a full degree on a flexible timeline; and creating global partnerships to enable learning across boundaries.

The MA Educational Leadership in Practice (ELiP) provides a model for success.

Modelling the future of learning: ELiP 

Dr Alexander Gardner-McTaggart was the programme designer and launch director of the award-winning flexible learning MA Educational Leadership in Practice. It was a rewarding challenge – and its success is clear from the strong cohorts and positive feedback of the many professional students (teachers and teacher leaders) it has attracted.

Its success has also been recognised with the award of best programme for 2022 in the University’s Faculty of Humanities – the biggest humanities faculty in the UK (and bigger than most universities).

It was a great accolade for Alex and the ELiP team and has been followed recently by the Teaching Excellence Award at the University. Today, ELiP is one of the top programmes at the Manchester Institute of Education – one of the world’s leading education organisations.

Dr. Alex Gardner-McTaggart:

“The success of ELiP stems from the fact the University allowed us the time to build the MA with care and recruit academics who are all recognised world leaders in their fields, such as Dr Paul Armstrong (now ELiP Programme Director), Dr Stephen Rayner, Professor Steve Courtney, and Professor Helen Gunter. So, our students are literally being taught by the people who wrote the articles and textbooks. This includes overseas students supported by the University like those at the Middle East Centre in Dubai, where faculty fly out to lead face to face course conferences.  This is very important because of the culture of learning among teachers, who take a very collegiate approach.

“Educational leadership is a social practice and we now have students – all teachers or teacher leaders – from all over the world and it is incredibly diverse. Our University values – knowledge, wisdom and humanity – are at the heart of our work and we are helping people become better versions of themselves through leadership.”

Alex has now moved into his new role as the academic lead for transnational education in the flexible learning programme, which crosses all three Schools at the University and puts him at the intersection of the TNE activity of the University and the education it delivers. It’s another leadership role, in which he will lead the University’s thinking and strategy in the TNE space.

“We now have over 20 degree programmes (in addition to ELiP) in the flexible learning portfolio, covering all the University’s faculties – Science & Engineering, Biology & Human Medicine, Humanities. Like ELiP, many of these are unique and extraordinary courses, such as Transformative Oncology and which emphasise care for the human being.

“This focus on flexible learning is all part of ensuring the University stays relevant in the 21st century by taking transformational education opportunities and experiences to people, wherever they may be. It’s all about sharing knowledge and intellectual meaning to transform society and working for a better world. Education is about working together. As an educator, I believe in education as a transformational experience. It has certainly transformed my life and I want to help others have the same opportunity and to develop our students as people with higher order leadership abilities based on intellect.”

About Dr. Alexander Gardner-McTaggart

Alex is a Senior Lecturer in educational leadership and Academic Lead for flexible transnational learning for the University of Manchester. He leads thinking and strategy on flexible learning for the global offering. Specialised in educational leadership at the Manchester Institute of Education, of the School of Environment, Education and Development of the University of Manchester, Dr. Alex was the first programme director and builder of the award-winning blended MA Educational Leadership in Practice.