Technology has revolutionized the way employees learn, and yet traditional learning methods continue to be popular. As a blended learning specialist, I still work with both old and new methods. Working within the ever-increasing, furiously fast-paced learning technologies space, sanity has forced me to accept that we exist within a present-day situation of ‘future histories’—that we’re all playing catch up with what has already been invented.
Housing those technologies within a framework of the best of what’s been used before helps us familiarise and standardize our use of them within a contemporary blended learning solution. My own framework for ensuring that best practice and quality standards are met comes from a hybrid cocktail of tradition and technology that I mixed for myself while studying (late in my career) for my Post-Compulsory PGCE in the UK.
‘Flipped learning’ came from the US and was defined by Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams around 2007—essentially in response to the increasing number of disengaged students in their classes. There were students who hadn’t known life without the internet and didn’t see technology as something separate from their lives, or from learning.
Discovering the Flipped Classroom Model of Blended Learning
The flipped classroom inverts traditional teaching methods so that the core information is delivered online, before the class (at home) and the ‘homework’ moves into the classroom.
It’s a form of blended learning which encompasses the use of technology to move direct teaching and instruction from the group teaching space (the classroom) into the self-paced, individual learning environment. This enables students to grasp the content at their own time and pace, releasing classroom time to concentrate on the application of understanding through discussions, debates and other activities that take care of the group dynamics available in a face-to-face format.
In 2010, I was continuing to work as a freelance Learning Consultant and was in a position to observe that organizations were strategizing and debating ways of incorporating blended learning models into their training programmes. I noted that eLearning (or rather, technology-enabled learning) was at an interesting juncture where it had a much larger role to play than previously.
And, driving the dynamics of the industry were emerging models and trends which were seeking to respond to the rapidly evolving social, economic, cultural, and technological changes that were happening.
Finding a Blended Learning Model That Really Works
My experience of clients at that time was that they were increasingly facing a bewildering and seductive array of digital-learning ‘goodies’. They recognized:
- how learning games and simulations were exciting and fun to engage with
- how convenient apps could be
- the importance and increasing use of virtual social communications
- and how effective great classroom training could be with its human contact.
But ‘seductive’ was the key word here, because my clients’ focus was often captivated by the learning tools themselves, rather than a memorable learning experience.
After consulting Jon Bergman directly, by 2013 I’d developed my own version of a flipped learning model and was using it with good effect for my learning consultation work. Essentially, I took Bergman and Sam’s flipped classroom concept, re-emphasized its links to Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, and included a range of learning tools beyond online video for self-paced learning. There are four stages to the 2013 Flipped Classroom Model, which creates a more mature learning environment for the instructor to become the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage”:
The Four Stages of Flipped Learning
The first part of the model is Information and Concept Exploration. Its equivalent teaching/pedagogic level is Level 1/2, where the learner receives and reflects back core information that has been delivered to them. This stage establishes self-paced learning, delivered online. The learner gathers information and explores concepts through a variety of formats such as YouTube, podcasts, content-rich websites, intranets, and nuggets of eLearning. Online chats are also included because keeping an element of shared communication throughout all four stages is important. The possibility of peer-to-peer learning helps you in your job as an educator (or learning designer), and is a great motivator within the self-paced learning environment.
The second part is Experiential Engagement. Its equivalent teaching/pedagogic level is Level 3/4, where learners embed and apply core knowledge. This can take place within a monitored live or virtual classroom, and through assessed exploratory interactive activities such as scenario-based simulations. Learners engage with content by experiencing hands-on activities, games, experiments, and creative tasks—both individually and collaboratively.
Part three is Demonstration and Application. Its equivalent teaching/pedagogic level is Level 5/6, where learners personalize their application of knowledge. Asking people to present their knowledge to their peers, or to problem-solve more complex situations and dilemmas close to their own working situation is effective here. Learners need to be asked to demonstrate and apply their understanding of the learning through creative, personalized projects and presentations which can be shared with others.
Part four is Reflection and Evaluation. Its equivalent teaching/pedagogic level is Level 7, where the learner is involved in debate and thought processes beyond the established system of knowledge, and where you have the potential for the learner to show evidence of thought leadership. Learners reflect on their learning by blogging, reflective podcasts, vodcasts (Instilled LXP's video platform is perfect for this) and through tasks that encourage self-evaluation.
The Flipped Classroom Model of Blended Learning: Practical Applications
There is a cyclical, ongoing nature to the Flipped Classroom Model—you can use all four stages to achieve a single level if you want, and then go round it again to achieve the next level.
I usually incorporate the reflective part of the model throughout. For example, you can get people to use a learning journal right from the very start. This could take the physical form of a notebook and pen, or the digital form of something like OneNote or a blogging platform. In short, this becomes a learner’s outward-bound brain, enabling them to assimilate and synthesize their learning and apply in context.
The shared communication with peers as well as the mentor can also take more than one other form than virtually—you can use monitored online community forum groups, as well as gather feedback through shared online areas such as Google docs/sheets from live group classroom events.
Fast forwarding to the here and now, and blended learning within the L&D industry is not new but the standards for creating learning blends still deserve scrutiny and continuous improvement. I like to make sure that a blend doesn’t assume the fallback position of emailing a pre-workshop survey, followed by a workshop that is primarily information delivery, followed by a rather soulless online questionnaire.
Experience of the employees I look after has shown me that attention to quality and reflective practice still holds, and that if we’re going to run a workshop as a core feature of an internal learning solution, it’s best to use it as part of a learning blend to embed, explore and extend learning through peer discussion and relevant scenario-based practice.