Part II: The Technology and Nomenclature Behind Flipped Learning, and What’s Really Most Important

Last week in Part I of this post we explored the popular topics of blended, hybrid, and flipped learning instruction and how, with mass-customized learning techniques, teachers can meet the needs of students in ways never before possible through technology integration and just plain good teaching. This week, we’ll take a look at some of the technology resources available to implement a flipped learning environment and how they can be applied to your classroom. 

The Technology: LMS

It is critical to understand that blended, hybrid, and flipped learning instruction are not about the technology. Christopher and I are both passionate about educational technology, but what we appreciate the most is how technology integration allows us to accomplish for our students what was not previously possible. Technology is only the vessel that makes the strategies of flipped learning and customized instruction possible. The type of technology itself is not nearly as important as how the technology is being integrated. It simply is not about the next greatest application or device, but how those resources benefit learners and facilitate the achievement of educational and instructional goals.  

There are some critical tools necessary in order to make flipped learning and customized instruction run more efficiently. A Learning Management System (LMS) is  the place where educators can  post course content, interactive videos, assignments, formative and summative assessments, and class discussions. Essentially, all aspects of a course can be managed through an LMS. The LMS needs to be a “one-stop shop” for everything within a course. Some popular LMS brands include Canvas, D2L, Blackboard, Moodle, and Schoology.

It is important to use the LMS that best meets the needs of a classroom. Utilizing an LMS properly will provide students with 24/7 access to the course content and will result in the removal of time and location barriers associated with the traditional classroom. Learning management systems can also provide teachers the powerful ability to collect and organize information about student learning. Since teachers can create formative and summative assessments within an LMS, it will serve as a place to view real-time student data to aid in guiding instructional decisions.

The Technology: Videos

Videos are another consistently-used tool seen in a flipped learning environment, and they have multiple classroom uses. Replacing whole-group instruction is the most popular way videos are used, and students can watch videos during class (in a flex or station rotation model) or at home (in a traditional model). Since students do not always do what is required, it will be important for teachers to hold students accountable for watching videos. Oftentimes adding an interactive element is the best way to do this. Something as simple as requiring students to take notes and then checking their notes can prove to be very effective. Other applications, such as Playposit, Zaption, or EDpuzzle, may also be useful. These applications allow teachers to add questions to the videos and collect real-time data about student comprehension as they watch. Of course, these are just a few of many options available for making videos in the classroom more interactive.

There are many reasons an educator might want to incorporate a video into their lessons. Videos can provide effective direct instruction, deliver directions, give student feedback, allow students to demonstrate understanding, and be used for a host of other applications. Videos allow students to pause, rewind, and rewatch content at a time and location of their choosing to cement comprehension and retention. Teacher-created content is very important, but it is worth noting that there is a significant amount of online content that can be curated for classroom use as well. Curated videos are great for offering students an alternative explanation of a difficult concept, introducing a content expert, and providing remedial activities. Granted, student learning does not end once the video ends, but the videos often serve as the introduction of a topic.  

The Technology: How to Evaluate Which Tools You’ll Choose

Beyond the LMS and videos, there are many other applications and devices that will make blended instruction and flipped learning effective in the classroom. There is a potentially overwhelming list of possibilities when it comes to the tools available for implementing flipped learning methods. We do encourage teachers to revisit the all-important questions posed earlier in this article when deciding which resources to use. What do they allow you to do that you were not able to do before? Familiarize yourself with the SAMR model of technology integration and determine how the tool you are evaluating will modify, augment, or redefine instruction. Both authors rely heavily on tools which allow for collaborative activities and publication of student work. The Google Apps for Education suite of applications is definitely a great place to start.  

Click here to read more on the SAMR Model from Eduspire’s Carol Roth. 

The Most Important Tool

Now that we have touched on the technology that makes flipped learning and blended instruction possible, it is important that we discuss the most important tool of all. In addition to making educators pause to reflect on the best use of their classroom time, flipped classroom pioneers Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann continuously state that the utmost benefit of flipped learning is that it allows teachers to talk with every student every day. Although this can still be difficult, especially at the middle school and high school levels, it is much more achievable in a flipped classroom environment. In fact, we believe that this type of instruction provides teachers with the opportunity to give every student what they need, every day. Sometimes this can be accomplished with one-on-one instruction while other times it may just be about giving them space and time they need to meet their goals for the day.

As great as it is, flipped learning instruction doesn’t change the most important tool in the classroom. As it was in the past and will continue to be in the future, the teacher remains the most important classroom tool. The teacher is simply the student’s best app! What blended, hybrid, and flipped learning models of instruction do is allow the time and opportunity for the teacher to develop relationships with students that will improve and directly impact learning. The increased one-on-one time and small group instruction time will allow the teacher to develop a better understanding of the needs of each individual student in the classroom. This understanding will aid the teacher in tailoring instruction to best meet the needs of each individual student.

What’s in a Name?

What is the best name for the “type of instruction” we have been discussing throughout this article? Is it blended, hybrid, or flipped learning? Are the three, in fact, different or really just the same thing with a different moniker? We believe that if you start with the goal in mind to meet the individual needs of every learner, every hour of every day, then the name becomes unimportant. All three terms are attempts to apply a name to a strategy which allows teachers to implement technology into their classrooms in a way that will improve student learning outcomes while breaking down the time and location barriers associated with the traditional classroom. As stated in the beginning, the goal is not simply to implement blended, hybrid, or flipped learning. Whatever name is used when referring to this type of learning, the real goal is about effectively using the resources available to us now to make informed decisions that improve education.  

Furthermore, incorporating technology to implement blended, hybrid, or flipped learning in the classroom does not have to be approached from an all-or-nothing standpoint. A teacher does not have to “flip their classroom” or “implement flipped learning” in order to use technology to enhance their traditional teaching methods. There are strategies that can be quickly implemented into an educator’s routine as well as those that take longer to implement. As with anything worth doing, there is a lot of trial and error involved for each individual teacher to discover their best practices. We view the implementation of blended, hybrid, and flipped learning practices as a journey that takes time to integrate, refine, and succeed. The benefits of implementing these strategies are enormous; the name you apply to them is unimportant for any reason except for not having to continually type, “this type of instruction.”

Conclusion: It All Boils Down to Good Teaching

Many schools are in the process of implementing a hybrid, blended, or flipped learning initiative. While we applaud school districts for this decision, we caution them not to miss the forest for the trees. One of the most important aspects of this type of instruction is its adaptability to meet the individual learning needs of students. This adaptability largely hinges on the freedom of the teachers to adapt their own instruction to meet the needs of their students. Scripted programs or predetermined instructional strategies limit the educator’s ability to practice the true art that is teaching. In order to implement this type of instruction teachers will rely on the best practices they have developed in their classrooms. Districts and teachers should be in partnership to seek opportunities for professional development that will assist teachers in learning to integrate the technology needed to be successful.

More importantly, though, it is critical to aid educators in developing a personal learning network (PLN) with other educators both within and outside of the school district. A strong PLN will connect educators and provide them with many opportunities to discuss best practices with other educators individually, in small groups, at conferences, and during graduate courses that will have the major impact on their own classroom teaching. Both authors agree that the most impactful learning we have experienced has come from the connections we have made with other educators through developing our own PLNs.

So whether you call it blended, hybrid, or flipped learning, setting up your classroom this way is not an all-or-nothing approach. It will take time to implement and master, for both you and your students. As you implement this model of instruction your goal should be focused on providing an individualized education for your students versus making sure your way of instruction matches the definition of blended, hybrid, or flipped learning. Instead of coining a certain term or phrase, maybe we should just call it “good teaching.”

If you missed Part I of this blog post, you can find it here. Dr. Christopher Mangan is an Eduspire instructor and fifth grade teacher at Cetronia Elementary School in Parkland School District. Jason K. Suter is an Eduspire instructor and science teacher at Hanover High School in Hanover Public School District. Follow the authors on Twitter @manganc24 and @jksuter.