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The Flipped Classroom Revolution: Coming to a Brain Near You

Posted on December 14, 2011 at 07:50 AM

One of the concepts in the L& D space that has taken the biggest strides this year has been that of the “flipped classroom model.” We first covered it back in March in “Online Academy Helps to Keep Lectures Where They Belong: Out of the Classroom.”

What is a flipped classroom?

Essentially, the idea is to upend the traditional teaching model of classroom lecture followed by personal practice at home. Instead, instructors deliver lectures via YouTube as homework, and then spend the next day in class helping their pupils work through sticking-points.


As Daniel Pink writes in an article for The Telegraph, the flipped classroom model is so intuitive that when you hear about it “you want to slap your forehead at the idea’s inexorable logic.” Luckily, more and more schools are beginning to take notice. The New York Times recently ran an article on the subject titled “Online Learning, Personalized” detailing new software being rolled out by Sal Khan and his Khan Academy to allow teachers to maximize the effectiveness of the flipped model.

Using this tool, instructors can track in real-time the progress being made by every individual in the class. As the author of the article notes, the software is in essence “a peephole into the brains” of each student, allowing the teacher to “see that a girl sitting against the wall is zipping through geometry exercises; that a boy with long curls over his eyes is stuck on a lesson on long equations; and that another boy in the front row is getting a handle on probability.”

Combined with software such as Khan’s, the flipped classroom model allows teachers and students to maximize the effectiveness of the learning experience. Lectures are no longer a “one-size-fits-all” proposition: pupils are free to fast forward in lectures if they already understand a topic, for instance, while instructors can personalize their instruction, focusing on students individually and at the exact moment they need help.

Given how intuitive this model is, it’s little wonder the Khan Academy has proven so wildly successful. When we first mentioned Sal Khan back in March, his site had 2,200 lectures available, and had registered more than 42 million lessons “delivered.” Nine months later, those numbers are 2,700 and 90.5 million, respectively. Still, one has to wonder whether other areas of learning outside of the schoolhouse could benefit equally from the “flipped revolution.” Luckily, in a recent post by Jane Hart, we are presented with an interesting and practical example.


Recognizing the utility of the flipped classroom model, Jane has recently decided to flip a webinar she will be delivering for an organization in the Netherlands. Instead of following the usual model of a lengthy on-screen presentation followed by a necessarily rushed Q&A session, Jane is proposing something entirely different, and perhaps as slap-your-forehead intuitive as the example noted above. As she writes:

“I have written a blog post about the webinar, in which I have provided the participants with a link to an article I have written and asked them to submit questions (in the comments on the blog post) in advance of the webinar. This will give them time to read and reflect on it and come up with some considered questions before the webinar itself. We can then use the questions that we have received to plan the structure and format of the webinar. It’ll undoubtedly include some very short presentational elements from me – perhaps one or two slides here and there – to support my answers to the questions, but there will be time for a fair amount of discussion, and hopefully some collaborative activities if the webinar software can support this. There will also be an opportunity to review the flipped/social webinar model to find out if this is what the participants like/want/find useful, etc.”

Given how difficult it can be to keep attendees engaged during a webinar, this strikes me as an excellent method of keeping focus and entertainment – and thus value – high. It does make you wonder what other day-to-day learning models are ripe for flipping.

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