The Flipped Classroom

One method of instructor led classroom training that has drawn a lot of attention in recent years is the “flipped classroom.” This relatively new approach to classroom teaching has been used at the high school and university level. But what is the flipped classroom? What is the all the fuss about? What are the pros and cons of this method? What technologies are needed to support the method? And what are some potential applications in the world of training. This post takes a look.


What is the flipped classroom?

The flipped classroom is probably easiest defined in terms of traditional classroom instruction, which this method in effect, “flips on its head.” In the traditional classroom, the instructor is the “sage on the stage.” The instructor delivers learning content through a lecture during class time, and is the center of attention. At home, meanwhile, the learners study and do homework exercises on their own.

The flipped classroom inverts this basic structure. At home, or in a computer lab, students watch video presentations of material the instructor would otherwise have lectured. In class, the instructor supports learners as they take part in activities to deepen understanding. Here, the instructor, in class at least, becomes more of a facilitator,  a “guide on the side.” The activities in class could include case studies, discussions, solving problems (for math and sciences), further reading or research, or experimental/lab/discovery work. The learning of basic concepts now takes place at home, while the in depth activities that build on this, activities that would typically have been done as homework, are done in class.

This method originated with two American high school teachers, Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams. Initially provided videos to help support absent students. Videos became popular, and ultimately shifted towards having all learners use the videos at home and take part in activities in class.

One of the well-known examples of materials that are used to support a flipped classroom type classroom structure is the videos of Khan Academy, usually the math and science exercises.


What the flipped classroom is not:

The last point talked a bit about what the flipped classroom is. It is also important to realize what the flipped classroom is not. There are some common misconceptions:

  • A synonym for online videos – the classroom activities that follow the videos watched at home are essential, where the most important learning takes place.
  • A replacement for classroom teachers. Instructors are still essential to lead and facilitate the classroom follow up activities. And again, this is where the real learning takes place. The instructors play a different role, but are still key.


Pros of the flipped classroom:

There are a number of benefits to the flipped classroom. These include:

  • More learner engagement in class, less boredom, more meaningful
  • Enables more one on one contact between instructor and students because one to many content / theory broadcasting is handled in videos
  • Enables individualized learning. Fast learners can pursue additional or deeper knowledge in class or can consolidate learning by helping to teach others. Students needing more help can get instructor attention
  • Ability to harness peer teaching / learning support. Some learners will pick up and grasp the material easily on the first pass through watching the videos. These learners can help explain to others in the classroom, offering peer perspective. This is valuable and effective from Vygotskyan / social constructivist perspective.
  • More productive use of instructor time, energy, and talents as an educator. Instead of spending time repeatedly lecturing the same material, do it once and then let the computer do the work of playing the lecture. The instructor can then spend his time, energy, and skills on designing creative classroom activities and interacting with learners.


Challenges of the flipped classroom

The method is not without its challenges, however.

The method requires solid access to solid high speed internet at home. If the learner can’t see the lecture at home or before the class, the method won’t work. The learners need access to quality speed internet. This is an issue of concern when you`re talking about K-12 and low-income urban (socio-economic barriers to access) or rural (technological barriers to access). School libraries or computer labs or community libraries can help with this, but the number of computers is usually limited, as is the time of access.

 Another challenge is the additional work required by the instructor. First there is work required to prepare the lecture videos. Second is the work to prepare alternate activities for the classroom. If the instructor is settled in his career, he may already have a full portfolio of lesson plans and lectures built up. He may be at the point where he knows his lecture material well enough to operate almost on autopilot. The new approach requires that the instructor rework his way of doing things, to replan to make use of the extra time in the classroom.

What technology is useful to support the flipped classroom?

Implementing a flipped classroom requires certain technologies.

  • An afforadable but quality video camera
  • Camtasia or other screen capture technology
  • Video editing software like Final Cut Pro or Windows Movie Maker
  • Sound editing software such as Soundforge
  • A computer station for video and audio editing
  • A platform to host video, whether Youtube or private web hosting (depending on sensitivity of the training material)


Possible applications

I mentioned earlier that the flipped classroom has been used in high school and university classrooms. But could the idea be applied to job training?

One potential candidate for the flipped classroom would be aviation pilot recurrent training. Or, more generally, for any sort of recurrent training for complex equipment operation. Recurrent training is training given to operators some period of time following initial training. One of the common complaints of such training is the boredom factor. The trainees are obligated to take the training for certification purposes. The traditional format of the training is to present a stripped down version of the initial course. With the novelty of the initial learning gone, this training can be rather boring. Even for the instructors, the process can be somewhat of a chore. However, there is a good reason for the training. Complex skills need retraining to preserve skills and prevent bad habits and short cuts from taking root. It also offers pilots / operators a chance to compare notes with other pilots / operators and ask more specific questions after some time on the real equipment.

The flipped classroom could offer a more engaging option for recurrent training.

Record a strong classroom instructor giving the classroom instruction. Have learners need to watch this on their own at their hotels, what not, with this perhaps delivered and tracked through an LMS. Then spend classroom time doing other activities, such as running through scenarios that apply knowledge about the aircraft systems.

Applying the flipped classroom in this context would require some upfront work to secure buy-in from instructors. Mainly to reassure that the idea of the methodology is not to replace the instructor with a video, but quite the contrary, to free the instructor from simple transmission of information, allowing the instructor to engage in more engaging activities with the trainees during the valuable classroom time.


Further References