Flipped Learning: Going Beyond the Obvious

Will Richardson wrote a blog post over at SmartBlogs that has been rolling around in my brain for a couple of days now and it’s time to put some of these thoughts down and see what you think. 

First I’m a big believer in the “Flipped Approach” not because it’s new, it isn’t, not because it’s about lecture…because it isn’t, but because it has educators talking and thinking about new ways of teaching….and that is aways positive. 

I do a flipped presentation that is my number one requested presentation at the moment but it’s not your typical flip presentation. I never talk about video, I never talk about “replacing lecture”. I talk about the classroom and what it looks like when content is everywhere. 

Will takes, what I think, is a very conservative definition of flipped learning:

For the uninitiated, the flipped concept suggests that we can now use technology to offload many of the more mundane classroom tasks — lectures primarily. It’s not hard to see the appeal, with the advent of Khan Academy and easy screencast-recording technology that allows any of us to give a lecture for homework and free up time for in-class problem-solving and discussion. But here’s the thing: flipping is nothing new, and as it stands, most flipping that I see doesn’t flip the most important switch that I’ve been discussing here — moving ownership of learning away from the teacher and more toward the student.

FlippingWhy can’t, what we’ll call a flipped approach, move to include ownership of learning for the students? I have talked about different ways I have worked with teachers in using a flipped approach in their classroom here, here and most recently here. The last example I linked to empowered students to take control of their own learning and write what they felt and learned that in the end got myself, the teacher, and the students in trouble with the government of the country I was in at the time (left out for obvious reasons…but you can figure it out). The teacher was threatened with jail time by the government and was asked to “leave politics out of teaching history”. In the end we had to pull down all blog posts written by students. Empowered learning? You can be the judge.

Here’s the thing we need to remember about the “flipped approach” if we think its job is to replace the lecture we need to rethink what it’s about. As many times as I have presented on this approach I’ve never had a teacher come up to me and say,  ”I lecture all the time and I know I need to change”. The fact of the matter is very few teachers actually lecture all the time. Lectures aren’t a bad thing either. Both Will and I make livings now lecturing to people. Lectures aren’t bad when used properly to motivate, inspire, or push thinking. So the flipped approach is not about replacing the lecture. 

To me the flipped approach is about thinking deeply about how we use the time we have with students. Maybe “flipped” is the wrong word…but it’s the word of the moment so if that’s what it takes to create change that’s what I’ll use. 

I constantly talk about one simple question that everyone should be asking themselves:

What is the reason we get together face to face?

When content is free and open, when everyone is should be connected, when learning is should be happening everywhere and anywhere, what’s the reason why 18,000 educators still made their way to ISTE12 in San Diego last week? There is not one concept or idea that was talked about at ISTE that couldn’t have been learned online.

Conferences still have a purpose…but it’s not content and knowledge. 

Classrooms still have a purpose…but it’s not content and knowledge.

As a high-school English teacher, I was flipping in the classroom in 1983, having my students read the literature at home and come into class ready to discuss it. That was flipping the curriculum, but it still wasn’t flipping the control of the learning. By assigning the lecture at home, we’re still in charge of delivering the curriculum, just at a different time. From what I’ve seen, flipping doesn’t do much for helping kids become better learners in the sense of being able to drive their own education.

Absolutely….you can’t expect students to become better learners unless we give them the skills they need to become better learners. In order to “flip the control of the learning” we need to empower students with the skills needed to learn.

What are the skills needed to be a learner today?

  • Know how to search effectively
  • Understand the power of connections 
  • Be able to skim efficiently
  • Be able to make connections between different pieces of data
  • Be able to communicate to a global audience
  • Be able to read hyperlinked text deeply
  • add your skill to the list in the comments

In 1983 the only skill Will was having student work on with his “flipped approach” was reading….and although that’s a skill that must be practiced, in high-school that’s a pretty low level skill for a homework assignment. If you are having students watch a video at home the only skill they are practicing is…watching? Listening?

The flipped approach, if nothing else, is making educators look at how they are using homework time and class time differently. That’s a good thing…we can only change approaches if we’re first willing to look at what we’re doing now and how we can use our time with students both at home and in the classroom better. 

Will and I agree on the larger point:

The larger point is this: This moment of huge disruption requires us to think deeply about our goals and practices as educators, and it requires us to think deeply about the language we use. Words matter. More importantly, our thinking about what we want our kids to learn and our changed roles in that process matters. I’m suggesting that right now, because of the Web and the plethora of new technologies, the best thing we can do for kids is empower them to make regular, important, thoughtful decisions about their own learning, what they learn and how they learn it, and to frame our use of language in that larger shift, not simply in the affordances for traditional curriculum delivery that the tools of the moment might bring.

Whether the approach is called personal learning, flipped learning, self-directed learning or (insert word here), I really don’t care. I agree with Will that where all this should be headed is exactly opposite from where it seems to be going today. 

The flipped approach isn’t a bad one if we define it as Will suggest and as I try to convey. The flipped approach is about empowering students with the skills needed to learn on their own, not empowering teachers with new ways to deliver content. 

You want to empower students to learn on their own? First we need to give them the skills to do so. Where are we teaching students the skills they need to be “empowered learners”? Let’s replace content standards with skill standards and assess those…then we can talk about flipping education as a whole.