Jay Cross helps people work and live smarter. Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. He wrote the book on it. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix.
Flipping learning is big in education. It will be big in corporate learning. Let’s not blow it.
How do you flip learning?
Khan Academy is the poster child for flipped learning. Sal Khan has produced more than 3,000 short videos on a variety of topics. Students watch the videos before coming to class. In the classroom, they sort out what they’ve learned and do what used to be called homework. Millions of students are learning this way. Recently, Stanford professors offered a couple of courses in this fashion and were surprised when a third of a million people enrolled.
Flipping makes a ton a sense. The learner can watch the mini-lectures when it’s convenient to do so. The learner controls the pace by pausing, replaying, or fast-forwarding. In all likelihood, the presentation by the enthusiastic Salmaan Khan or a popular Stanford prof is going to be more engaging than your local school teacher or grad student teaching assistant. The video can provide content in small, digestible pieces. Once it’s in the can, the video can be replayed again and again. And of course, video delivered online scales without an increase in cost.
More important for learning outcomes, the time spent in class can be put to more productive use. Learners convene to get answers to questions, discuss examples, put what they’ve learned in context, debate, explore, and extend their knowledge. Instead of passively listening to an instructor, they actively engage the material. Instructors, freed of the need to mouth the words of lessons, focus on helping learners understand things and coaching individuals. These activities can take place online, and people can learn from one another in virtual communities and support groups.
In a Science Times essay, “Death Knell for the Lecture: Technology as a Passport to Personalized Education,” Daphne Koller described how Stanford University has flipped traditional courses:
At Stanford, we recently placed three computer science courses online, using a similar format. Remarkably, in the first four weeks, 300,000 students registered for these courses, with millions of video views and hundreds of thousands of submitted assignments.
What can we learn from these successes? First, we see that video content is engaging to students — many of whom grew up on YouTube — and easy for instructors to produce.
Second, presenting content in short, bite-size chunks, rather than monolithic hourlong lectures, is better suited to students’ attention spans, and provides the flexibility to tailor instruction to individual students. Those with less preparation can dwell longer on background material without feeling uncomfortable about how they might be perceived by classmates or the instructor.
Conversely, students with an aptitude for the topic can move ahead rapidly, avoiding boredom and disengagement. In short, everyone has access to a personalized experience that resembles individual tutoring.
Watching passively is not enough. Engagement through exercises and assessments is a critical component of learning. These exercises are designed not just to evaluate the student’s learning, but also, more important, to enhance understanding by prompting recall and placing ideas in context.
Moreover, testing allows students to move ahead when they master a concept, rather than when they have spent a stipulated amount of time staring at the teacher who is explaining it.
An article in Wired, The Stanford Educational Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever, describes the wildly popular course on artificial intelligence taught by Stanford professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig:
Does it make any sense that school is generally a place where people come together to sit and listen to the person at the front of the room? It generally doesn’t make the most sense to get a group of people together to sit and stare. What if instead, educators spent class time doing and homework time for the watching of lessons/lectures. The other benefit of this is that these can be viewed and reviewed anytime/anywhere. The result is a lively bustling classroom where students can spend their time learning, talking, doing.
I fear that flipping learning in corporations may meet the same nasty fate as eLearning.
In the early days, 1999-2000, many of us believed that eLearning was the forefront of a renaissance in learning. Not only could people learn at their own pace, whenever they wanted, they’d also be able to ask questions, learn with peers, join communities, access job aids, contact mentors, and create personal learning paths. Workers could attend virtual classes without leaving the workplace. Software would create personalized learning experiences by assembling custom configurations of learning objects.
The eLearning dream didn’t last long. Companies proved more interested in reducing instructor head-count and facilities costs than in improving learning outcomes. Training departments put PowerPoint presentations on their intranets and acted as if people could learn from them. Vendors put deadly-dull page-turner courses online and called it eLearning.
When times were tough, training departments slashed budgets by replacing face-to-face instruction with online reading. They failed to follow through with the discussions, practice, social processing, and reinforcement that makes lessons stick. It didn’t work. Most eLearning is ineffective drudgery.
That’s my nightmare about flipping learning in the corporation, that organizations will once again confuse exposure to content with learning. It’s great to replace lectures with video clips — IF you retain the opportunity for people to ask questions, interact with the material, practice what they’ve learned, collaborate with others, and periodically refresh their memories. This takes a sound learning ecosystem, a workscape.
Dan Pink thinks we should flip not only schooling but also publishing, the movie business, human resources, and office space. I agree. Business has changed. There’s hardly any business model left that couldn’t benefit from a flip. Break the processes into pieces and see if there’s not a better way to put them back together.