Personalized Learning and Engagement: Why Flipped Classrooms are the Future of Education

By: Jessica Rand

While the concept of the flipped classroom, and the very name itself, may seem backwards, in reality it is an innovative way of offering students and educators a more engaging, personalized learning experience. With the rapid growth of online and blended learning, and the proliferation of technology devices, educators have more opportunities than ever to provide personalized, meaningful learning experiences to their students. Using a flipped classroom model is one of the most effective strategies for achieving this.

What is a flipped classroom?

One of the biggest challenges that educators face is trying to meet curriculum or course outcomes within a short time period. As a result, many courses adopt a lecture format to instill as much knowledge as possible within the calendar constraints. While the majority of educators understand the benefits of collaboration and problem solving, they struggle to find the time. The flipped classroom model addresses this challenge by “flipping” the way courses are taught.

Flipped classrooms are not an entirely new practice. Many people have experienced some aspects of the flipped classroom model when their professors have asked them to pre-read course materials or watch a video online before coming to class. Anthony Bates explains that constructivist theories of education, argue that learners must construct personal meaning through experience and reflection. Flipped classrooms can be so much more than having students pre-read a chapter before attending a lecture. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour reports that over 20 years ago Alison King argued that educators should move from a “sage on the stage” way of teaching to being a “guide on the side”. She argued that many instructors try to impart the knowledge they have by lecturing to a room of students and would be more effective by guiding students through exploration of content. The goal of exploration and collaboration is at the center of flipped classrooms.

An instructor engaging in a flipped classroom will provide students with a means of learning course content outside of class time, followed by collaboration and learning activities in the class. For example, a student may learn course content for a science class by watching a short video and playing a relevant online educational game before each class. When the student comes to the following class, he is already familiar with the content and is able to engage in more meaningful learning through discussion, collaboration and experiential learning.

Benefits of flipping a classroom

Individual student needs are addressed more effectively in flipped classrooms. Content can be made available in different medium. For example, students who struggle with reading can listen to informational podcasts or watch videos. Rather than educators spending class time teaching content, they are able to meet with individual students, facilitate learning stations and engage in hands-on experiences with students. Students are also able to access content material at a time and place that is convenient to them. This allows students to learn in a way that meets their needs. Student autonomy over learning is critical, especially for struggling students. Learners that take ownership of their learning are more likely to engage in personalized learning.

Engagement is another advantage of flipped classrooms. Many students become bored or disengaged in traditional class settings. This occurs for two reasons. First, many students find lecture-style teaching dull and uninteresting. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour report that a student’s attention declines after just ten minutes of class lecture and that only about 20 percent of material is retained. Second, students who require accommodations or extensions will become disengaged as content material is presented in a way that is either too difficult or too easy for them. Flipped classroom educators have the opportunity to provide content in a more varied, personalized manner and provide truly meaningful, engaging experiences in the classroom.

The role of technology

As you can imagine, technology plays a vital role in flipped classrooms. An effective flipped classroom does not simply ask students to read chapters of a textbook prior to class and then expect them to have learned the content. Flipped classrooms use technology as a tool for facilitating and improving learning experiences. Great examples of technology being used effectively in flipped classrooms are podcasts, Smartboards, voice recorders, video logs, blogs, document cameras, robotics, and tablets.

Technology provides many opportunities to students learning in a flipped classroom, and the devices and programs available are becoming more exciting every day. There are, however, many terrific ways to offer students a flipped classroom learning experience without obtaining a Computer Science degree. Educators should use technology that they are familiar with and slowly expand their expertise to include more devices and programs that they feel would benefit their students.

Many post-secondary institutions are choosing to provide flipped classroom learning experiences to their students. The proven benefits to student engagement and personalization of learning indicate that students are seeing more success with this style of teaching. Educators from the University of Hong Kong provide several strategies for teachers inspired to start their own flipped classrooms. They recommend that instructors take the process one step at a time and keep technology simple (especially in the beginning), avoid providing too much information to students at once, find ways to engage students with material and reflect on practices to make changes as needed.

It is an exciting time to be in the education system. The increase of technology devices and programs has changed the way we learn and teach. As educators, we can harness the strengths of emerging technologies and practices such as the flipped classroom to engage each of our students like never before.

About the author

Jessica Rand teaches part-time in beautiful Prince George, British Columbia where her three sons keep her busy. She is currently working on an Online Learning and Teaching Diploma from Vancouver Island University and says that her hope as an educator is to use technology to engage students in their own learning journeys. When not teaching, Jessica spends time with her husband and boys, and also loves to read, run, volunteer and spend time with friends.

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