I’ve always been tickled by our industry’s obsession with buzzwords and trends. There have been many in my 30-plus years in this industry. My one pet peeve with all this is that we often “brand” first and “define and refine” second. This has gotten us into trouble a few times.
Setting expectations and boundaries for learning efforts too early can slow down adoption and inhibit growth. Many a great idea or method has taken way too long to develop because we jumped to an early assumption regarding its preferred or most effective format.
I’m seeing the same thing with the flipped classroom. The classroom does need help. We all agree that it’s not going away anytime soon, but at the same time, it’s taken some hits lately from other competing approaches.
The exciting potential of the flipped classroom is that, if done right, it can help free the classroom to do what it does best, which is to be a safe environment for experimentation, collaboration, remediation, failure, creative thinking and critical thinking, as well as help employees learn how to become independent self-directed learners. These are incredibly powerful things that are hard to do in the regular, day-to-day workflow. The last thing a classroom needs to be is chained down to delivering content through endless lectures, demonstrations and PowerPoints.
In my travels, having looked at many efforts to flip the classroom, I’ve seen three effective approaches emerge:
- Flipping before the classroom experience. If you research this method, you’ll find it has dominated our thinking. In this approach, we have learners do work before they attend the classroom. Learning leaders assign videos, e-learning and other pre-work so students enter the classroom having already mastered some of what was historically been saved for the classroom itself. Often these skills are assessed prior to, or even as a prerequisite for, attending the class itself. This way, valuable classroom time can then used for exercises, projects or discussions building on what was already learned. But flipping the classroom doesn’t have to stop there.
- Flipping during the classroom experience. We often teach information that builds on prior knowledge. A colleague of mine argues that few adult classes are entirely about new information. Many are an extension of a lifetime of experiences. For instance, I recently attended a class for new managers. Because none of the students had ever held the title of manager at this particular firm, the class followed the classic lecture, lab, assess model. Was this the best use of valuable class time? Because each employee had to have been with the company for at least a year to qualify as a manager, didn’t they possess a year’s worth of experience observing and being managed? This happens way too often in corporate training. The correct model was to flip the classroom itself where they followed an assess, lab, lecture model. Each lesson started with an overall assessment of background with the content, then they entered a discovery lab activity where they used prior knowledge to approach a managerial issue. Lastly, the instructor facilitated a discussion and, at times, lectured around the overall principles to be learned.
- Flipping after the classroom experience. This could be one of the most misunderstood flips in the model. This approach uses the classroom to teach only the critical skills needed to survive, and tools such as performance support, along with methods such as coaching and mentoring. Then the learners leave the classroom and intentionally extend their learning out into the workflow where learning is best done in the first place. The classroom becomes a place to ready students for learning, not the end of the journey.
If we flip the classroom correctly, it can become a place of enablement and not just a place where information is shared. Let’s push the model before it’s baked and branded.