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Toward a common definition of “flipped learning”

April 1, 2014, 2:34 pm

2014-04-01_14-33-25We’ve seen a significant ramping up of interest in – and exposure to – the flipped/inverted classroom over the last few years, and it’s been nice to see an uptick in the amount of research being done into its effectiveness. But one thing that’s been lacking has been a consensus on what the flipped classroom actually is. If a professor assigns readings to do before class and then holds discussions in class, is that “the flipped classroom”? I’ve said in the past that it is not (necessarily), but that’s just me. Now, however, a group of educators and others interested in flipped learning are proposing a common definition of flipped learning, and it’s pretty interesting.

Their definition of flipped learning goes like this:

Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.

Note first that the authors are not defining what the flipped classroom is but rather what flipped learning is. They say: “These terms are not interchangeable. Flipping a class can, but does not necessarily, lead to Flipped Learning.” I think that’s right. The flipped classroom describes a logistical arrangement – how and when the initial information is encountered by students, what is scheduled to happen in class – whereas flipped learning focuses on the processes that students engage in and the outcomes they strive towards within that logistical framework. Many “flipped classes” are indistinguishable from traditional lecture courses in terms of what students do.

So, what does flipped learning involve that distinguishes it from merely flipping a classroom? The authors lay out four “pillars” of practice, conveniently chosen to form FLIP as an acronym:

  • Flexible environment (Students are allowed a variety of modes of learning and means of assessment)
  • Learning culture (Student-centered communities of inquiry rather than instructor-centered lecture)
  • Intentional content (Basically this means placing content in the most appropriate context – direct instruction prior to class for individual use, video that’s accessible to all students, etc.)
  • Professional educator (Being a reflective, accessible instructor who collaborates with other educators and takes responsibility for perfecting one’s craft)

There’s even a checklist next to each “pillar” to assess how well you’re doing in each one.

What the authors have done here, I think, really distinguishes the inverted classroom as I understand it – a way of designing courses that emphasizes self-regulated learning and deep learning on a personal level – from classes that say they are flipped but don’t take advantage of the opportunities for student learning that flipping offers. Just because you’ve been giving reading assignments outside of class and holding discussions in class, it doesn’t mean you’ve “always been flipping the classroom”. There’s more at work, and at stake here. The focus in the above definition is on student learning and not on course design and I think that’s totally correct.

I do think the definition in this document should say something about the eventual goals of flipped learning. What kind of students do we want to create through their experiences with flipped learning? For me, self-regulated learning is both the motivation for flipped learning as well as its ultimate goal. All four of the pillars here sort of bear upon this, but if I were editing this document, I would throw in something about what the long-term product of flipped learning should be. That product would be a generation of learners who are confident, competent problem-solvers who have the abilities and the desire to learn new things on their own, throughout their lives.

In ticking down through the lists, I think the item I need to work on the most is the “flexible environment”. Right now students all demonstrate their learning in my classes more or less the same way – homework (or labs), tests, and a final exam. My classes right now (cryptography, and discrete structures) also have projects, and so there is a lot of choice with those. But not much choice elsewhere. I had already been eyeing standards-based grading before seeing this document and moreso now, possibly to try out this fall when I teach version 2.0 of the flipped calculus course.

What are your thoughts on this document and definition?

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