Discovering the inverted classroom

 The ‘inverted classroom’ (or ‘flipped classroom’) is a method of delivering knowledge that is quite the opposite of traditional education.

The typical classroom setup looks something like this: students sitting at a desk while the teacher stands at the front of the room; the teacher disseminates knowledge while students take notes. Students then complete exercises that are aimed at applying the knowledge they have learned as homework.

Although education has looked like this for hundreds of years, we now recognise the fact that people learn in different ways. Everyone progresses at a different pace, and each person is inclined to learn better in a specific way – from seeing, listening, or doing, for example. In the past, the educational system lacked this kind of sensibility, and that meant that some students were inevitably left behind. The inverted classroom, however, addresses these issues perfectly.

An inclusive approach
With the inverted classroom, an activity is given to the learner to complete beforehand instead of delivering lectures, academic concepts and theories during class. The lecturer also provides a video of the content that will be taught in class, sharing it with students so that they can watch it ahead of their next lesson. Students can watch the videos as many times as they want, then come back to class with questions for the tutor.

This method can also apply to written content, distributing copies of the text to students in advance. This way, keeping up with the class is no longer an issue, as all students enter the room with the same level of knowledge on the topic.

The face-to-face part of the learning process is, therefore, dedicated to applying the concepts and completing exercises to reinforce knowledge. Tutors can spend more time working with students and giving them individual support and attention, filling gaps and ensuring that everybody’s knowledge is on the same level. In other words, all that we know to be typically “homework” is now performed in the classroom.

Turn challenges into opportunities
Much like teaching itself, to invert a classroom has its advantages, but also some challenges. One of the common objections I hear from tutors is that students may turn up to class without having done the pre-class work; this forces them to deliver the material with the risk of holding back those who came prepared.

 The first important step that tutors can take is to teach their students how to engage with an educational video; watching a movie for entertainment and a video that is meant to be teaching you a new concept are entirely different experiences. Students need to understand how to engage with the educational video and reflect on its content, rather than simply watching it.

Another factor to consider is the length of the videos. Anything longer than 15-18 minutes will inevitably lose the interest and focus of the learner – hence why all TED speakers are limited to 18 minutes! Tutors can also build-in some safeguards to make sure the pre-course work is completed. Asking students to present what they have learnt, or giving them a short questionnaire testing their understanding of the material can help track who actually views the videos in advance.

Despite the widespread development of modern devices, some students may not be able to access the online material due to technology constraints. Thankfully, tutors have numerous options at their disposal to overcome this issue, for example, by preparing USB drives, printing the articles, or pre-uploading onto devices that can be checked out to students.

One of the beautiful characteristics of the inverted classroom method is that it is very scalable. You don’t need to ‘flip’ a whole programme; you can invert a single lesson, one module, or a whole course. For anyone considering inverting a classroom, the recommendation is to start small; start with inverting one lesson, perhaps the part students usually struggle with most.

The journey goes on
All levels of education need to keep evolving and adjusting to the changes in society, while maintaining its purpose to create and share knowledge. The ultimate goal will always be helping people to better their lives, whether this means improving their career, travelling or simply exploring new opportunities. The inverted classroom represents not only a different approach to teaching, but also a resource that takes individuals with different needs, abilities and objectives into account.

More so than in the past, education has become a non-linear journey: people who dropped out of school have the chance to go back to study; professionals can enhance their profiles with executive education; students who can’t afford university can improve their employability with qualifications and short courses. By bringing the same group of students to the same starting line, the inverted classroom can truly help to widen access to education for a variety of learners, bridging the gap and enhancing the learning experience.

Dessy Ohanians is Managing Director of Executive Education at the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF).

Dessy’s role is to define the strategy and oversee the implementation of professional development and certificate programmes. She has been working in the education industry for over 20 years with extensive experience in both the private and public sectors.