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What Are Flipped Classrooms? Socrates Would Be So Proud

President Of TrainSmart, Inc.

From high schools to Stanford Medical School to corporate training departments, “the flipped classroom” seems to be on everyone’s mind. Of course, the flipped classroom really isn’t a thing – it’s more a learning model.

Basically, the flipped classroom concept focuses on taking the lecture out of the classroom and using that time for social learning – simulations, case studies, and peer-to-peer learning- anything that enables students and facilitators to talk and learn from each other.

In the flipped classroom, the information-sharing portion of learning (the part that used to be done during class time) is done prior to the classroom session. It is most often a video or e-learning module.

This learning model isn’t exactly new  — isn’t that what the Socratic method is all about? Socrates used a teaching technique in which the teacher did not provide information directly – think PowerPoint lectures.  Instead, Socrates asked a series of questions about the subject matter. The result: either the student came to the desired knowledge by answering questions or they gained a deeper awareness of the limits of their knowledge.

Proponents of the flipped approach say it’s a more powerful way to learn because it provides:

  • More one-on-one time with the teacher/facilitator/trainer
  • Greater flexibility so students can learn at their own pace
  • An environment that encourages mastery of learning
  • Evaluation tools to identify areas where participants are excelling or struggling

While there is significant enthusiasm about this approach in high school and college, early adopters of the flipped classroom discovered that it’s not enough to simply replace a lecture with a video. Both are passive learning experiences. To be effective, the pre-work needs to be interactive and include components in which students have to make a decision about the information. It’s the decision-making process that helps students/participants learn.

Detractors of the flipped classroom say there is a risk that corporations will see the video at-home portion of the learning model as a huge cost saving and only deploy this portion of the model without including the social learning aspects – either online or in the classroom.

The challenges of the flipped classroom in the corporate space are significant. Trainers already know that only a small portion of participants do assign pre-work. In order for the flipped classroom to work in the corporate setting, organizations will need to have some kind of assessment that demonstrates participants actually watched the pre-classroom assignment.

Otherwise, the trainers will be faced with a situation where a percentage of participants can’t actively contribute to the conversation because they didn’t do the pre-work.

For trainers who are most comfortable with a lecture format, the flipped classroom demands a more facilitative approach to learning. It requires the ability to go off-script while staying on-topic.

Most importantly, implementing a flipped classroom demands a different kind of instructional design. It is not as simple as “flipping homework to pre-work.” The University of Texas has a Quick Start Guide for Instructional Designers tasked with converting a traditional class to a flipped one.

And, Stanford University Medical School is actively using the flipped classroom and shares thoughts on the process in this YouTube Video.