Turning Learning Upside Down

While it really isn’t anything I can explain, every once in a while I stumble across a transformative concept that simply feels right. Sometimes I try to push the concept to the back of my mind because I know implementing that change is going to result in disruption, not to mention a significant amount of work. Ultimately though the concept keeps surfacing and draws me in like a moth to a flame.

Recently two such moments got me thinking about teaching in a very different way. That’s not to say I don’t already think about teaching a great deal. After all, I have always been drawn to anything that provided an opportunity to teach, curate, train, or transfer knowledge in some way.

Although I taught previously at a community college today I’m focused on delivering conference sessions, workshops, and keynotes. Additionally, much of my training has moved online in the form of interactive webinars via our Campus for Communities.

Webinars are also how I’ve managed to further my own online learning and growth in an efficient and effective manner.

It was in one of those webinars delivered by Martyn Lewis that I learned about an invention in 1801 by James Pillan that many claim is responsible for sending education in the wrong direction for over 200 years.

While some might think that invention was the typewriter or printing press, it was in fact the chalkboard.

Lewis pointed out that until then education had taken a much more hands-on approach. Apprenticeships were highly valued and learning was much more social and collaborative. Learners were not only tutored, mentored, and coached; they also spent time learning from their peers.

All of that changed when the chalkboard encouraged the presentation of information to the masses.

From that point on, classes got bigger with chalkboards evolving to become whiteboards and eventually PowerPoint presentations. That meant we moved from learning that was social, collaborative, and exploratory in nature, to learning that was more often about the transmission of information. Along the way, a lot of learning became less accessible, relevant, and valuable.

The second transformative concept that really got me thinking is that of “flipped instruction”.

In essence “flipped instruction” refers to reversing what we have typically thought of as “class time teaching” with that of “homework”. That means students watch and listen to lectures for homework (usually via videos) and then use class-time for what previously was done as homework. The result is that class time can be spent tackling challenges, working in groups, researching, collaborating, and problem solving. Content is still being delivered but classrooms can become more like laboratories or studios.

The results of flipped instruction include more exchange of dialogue and ideas, collaboration, and learning at one’s own self-controlled paced. Perhaps most importantly it allows educators to meet the individual needs of learners and spend more time focused on deeper and richer learning.

While some may argue that neither of the above two concepts are new and are simply tools that any good teacher should add to their toolbox, for me it’s something more. Both concepts validate and provide a process for teachers like me who are committed to shifting from being the “sage on the stage” to becoming the “guide on the side” that is essential for today’s learning.


Posted on 03-22-17

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