Flipped learning, according to the Flipped Learning Network, moves direct instruction from the group learning space to the individual learning space. The group learning space (i.e. the classroom) then becomes an interactive environment where the educator guides students through applying concepts and engaging creatively with subject matter.
Dr. Helaine W. Marshall, professor of education and director of language education at Long Island University, has a slightly different take. She describes the integral role of technology to “create fertile spaces for teaching and learning,” adding that flipped learning is really about transforming education, not just “flipping the classroom.”
As definitions vary among instructors and experts, it may be no surprise that the actual practice of flipped learning varies too. Key components of flipped learning are consistent — such as the idea that out-of-class work can reshape how in-class time is used — but a range of frameworks allow instructors to discover what works best for their own students and teaching preferences.
Flipped learning doesn’t happen overnight; it takes a shift in teaching methods from the teacher and a shift in expectations from the students. There is a need, particularly at first, for additional planning and course redesign.
But the efforts pay off: cognitive science and online learning research from Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative have found accelerated learning, improved outcomes, increased productivity, and even cost savings through hybrid courses. So let’s look at how to get started.
Understanding flipped learning: start outside the classroom
In the “flipped classroom” students gain their first exposure to new material — such as lecture videos or reading — outside of the classroom. Class time is used for debates, group problem-solving, or discussion to help assimilate the knowledge.
Flipped learning educators agree that by moving some of the prep work and course content, especially low-level basic information, outside of the classroom, students are already at a higher level once they get into class. They are more engaged, and the learning experience is much deeper.
But this alone does not necessarily constitute flipped learning, according to some advocates and experts. The Flipped Learning Network (FLN) cautions that the term “flipped classroom” and “flipped learning” are not interchangeable. Teachers may already be flipping their classes by integrating instructional videos or having students read course content or solve additional problems outside of the classroom.
But to engage in flipped learning, teachers should be also integrating these four pillars into their practice:
- Flexible environment. Educators create flexible learning spaces to support independent study or group work. In addition, there is flexibility in time frames and assessments for student learning.
- Learning culture. In flipped learning, instruction shifts from the teacher-centered model to the learner-centered model. Class time allows for exploring topics in greater depth.
- Intentional content. Flipped learning educators determine what they need to teach and what materials students should review outside the classroom to maximize classroom time. Educators continually think about how to help students develop conceptual understanding as well as procedural fluency.
- Professional educator. The role of the professional educator can be even more demanding in the flipped classroom. Educators must be able to tolerate “controlled chaos” in the classroom, accept constructive feedback, and collaborate and reflect with other educators. They should be ready to make themselves available to students for individual, small group, and classroom feedback in real time.
First steps in flipped learning
Kelly Walsh, CIO and faculty member at the College of Westchester offers several practical tips for faculty who are are new to flipped learning. (These are offered by way of summary of a presentation by Helaine Marshall, professor of education at Long Island University-Hudson, the video of which is also worth watch.) Walsh says:
- You need a lot of support, so think about the climate at your institution. How is it going to be received? Is innovative thinking valued? Is there funding or release time available. Then start small.
- Work with innovative people to help you design your online course. Just knowing how to use technology is not enough. Marshall worked “for hours” with an instructional designer.
- Leverage technology. Put course procedures on video, along with academic content and applications or implementations. (Marshall teaches teacher education and made videos of teachers.) She also uses others’ videos and other websites.
- Use a Wonderwall, either physical or digital, for students to collaborate and communicate.
- Assess the effectiveness of the class through student feedback, other colleague evaluation, and traditional quizzes and exams.
- Be prepared to have more interaction with the students.
- Be brave and encouraged. Flipped learning is for improving education.
Learn to give up some control
Preparing to adopt a flipped learning approach is as much about getting into the right mindset as it is about gathering the necessary resources and supports. In her article, Yin and Yang in Flipped and Active Learning Classrooms: Plan, But Be Flexible, Barbi Honeycutt, founder of FLIP It Consulting, tells instructors to put themselves in the shoes of their learners.
Avoid getting stressed by allowing for some margin in your lesson in case things don’t go as planned. Build in extra time for unexpected situations, technology issues, or even students arriving late to class. This also allows extra time for students to do the task, as well as reflect and think.
Learn to “let go” of the learning environment by practicing becoming actively passive. Honeycutt says, “Some students have more questions. Some students will be prepared, and some will not. Some students need guidance. Some groups need a referee.” This puts the instructor in the tough spot of trying to shift gears quickly, providing help, and meeting with all the groups.
Kelly Walsh also highlights the need for instructors to loosen the reins. In part 3 of his series, Flip Like an Expert — Best Practices for Successful Flipped Classrooms, Walsh says, “Be willing to give up some control,” which can mean learning to live with the structured chaos of the flipped learning classroom.
Walsh also recommends that educators provide in-class activities that focus on higher level cognitive activities and form small student groups to serve as on-going workgroups for those in-class activities. Because students are gaining basic knowledge outside of class, the in-classroom time should be devoted to deeper learning.
Finally, Walsh says to optimize learning space by creating collaborative spaces and individual spaces, also an important step for accommodating learner-centered instruction. Rearrange the room to “emphasize learning, not teaching.”
Take advantage of technology tools
Technology is integral to flipped learning and there are numerous tools available to educators.
- The Acrobatiq platform, for example, is a powerful tool to build rich, adaptive online courses.
- AdobeConnect is web conferencing software that can be used for collaboration and virtual classrooms.
- The ed.ted.com platform is designed to turn any YouTube video or TedTalk into a structured digital lesson.
- EdPuzzle is a free application that makes it easy to embed questions into Vimeo or YouTube videos.
- Even narrating over Powerpoint can be used as a vehicle for flipped or blended coursework.
The Flipped Learning Network has a series of blogs called 12 Ways to Create Flipped or Blended Learning, a great resource for learning about technology tools that other educators are using in the flipped classroom.
Now set out your action plan
It’s time to determine what kind of support you have from your administration. Do they encourage innovative thinking? Find out if there is funding available, such as a grant or release time.
Start small by experimenting with one or two components of your course to demonstrate to yourself and your institution that flipped learning can work. Decide what module or part of your course you want to flip and brainstorm your flipped lesson. Learn one or two technology tools and don’t be afraid to experiment. Try it out yourself before you give it to your students.
Related reading: Activate Learning Through Learning Design – Here’s How
To avoid resistance from your students, be careful about labeling your course, but do set expectations and let your class know this approach is going to work. Then assess learning in the classroom.
Adjust to your new role in the flipped classroom from teacher to facilitator. Be willing to give up some control. Learn to live with some “structured” chaos so that you can manage your time, energy, and priorities in the flipped classroom.
Pam Baker is a freelance writer specializing in human resources, information technology and online learning technology.