Megatrends in MOOCs: #9 Flipping the MOOC

flipped_classroomAs digital learning environments, MOOCs are incredibly flexible—they can be used for fully online courses, in hybrid courses, as supplementary materials, and more. One of the offshoots of the growth of MOOCs has been an interest in “flipped classes,” which is commonly conceived as a reversal of in-class time and out-of-class time. For example, the typical formula for flipping a class is to assign video lectures as homework and use in-class time for collaborative activities including role play and problem-solving. Here, we’ll look briefly at how to use MOOCs to flip a corporate classroom in this way as well as explore a broader perspective on what it means to flip an online course.

Flipping class time

When people talk about “flipping” a classroom, what they are usually talking about is a way of integrating technology into a traditional course to make it a hybrid course. In this model, learners watch online videos at home and then come to class ready to participate in hands-on activities along with their fellow students. In essence, this method of flipping the classroom is just a way of reorganizing training to maximize face time and time spent on applied learning. In an article for the Association for Talent Development, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams describe how flipped learning is being explored in businesses as diverse as the nuclear power industry to a hair-care products company.

The MOOC format is a pretty obvious fit for this type of flipping. The MOOC itself can be used to deliver the content, and the learners can then meet in person to do applied activities, like simulations. In this model, the MOOC provides the framework for what is essentially a hybrid course. The main advantages of this “traditional” flipping (if we can call it that) include improved learning outcomes and less demand on trainers, who need to create and deliver the content only once (i.e., record a video lecture or tutorial, which can then be reused in future sessions of the course).

This model has recently started to take off in workforce education as organizations look for new ways to provide the necessary training while making their training budgets stretch farther. But there is another vision of flipping—one that will become even more relevant as more classes move not just to a hybrid format, but fully online.

Flipping class focus

In article titled “Can you flip an online class?” Barbi Honeycutt and Sarah Glova suggest that flipping can successfully be used in an online course as well. They argue that flipping should not be just about time spent on different activities. They write: “The flipped classroom model can help us design more interactive and engaging online experiences, and online classes can help us expand on what it means to flip. Certainly there is something to learn by combining these two conversations.” What they suggest is that flipping the entire focus of the course.

For online courses, they define “flipping” as “shifting the focus from the instructor to the students.” This way, rather than just focusing on what happens in versus out of class, “we focus on what are students doing to construct knowledge, connect with others, and engage in higher levels of critical thinking and analysis….The real flip is not about where activities take place—it’s about flipping the focus from you to your students.” Their suggestions for how to do this include using a course-specific hashtag so learners can share resources and developing assignments that encourage self-reflection and analysis.

MOOCs are also an ideal framework for this second type of flipping. In theory, any type of activity, assignment, or interaction possible in a traditional online course can be adapted into a MOOC. In addition, by using social networking sites and social media platforms, learners in a MOOC can build personal learning networks; create, curate, and share resources; and participate in reflective activities, such as blogging.

This second perspective on flipping is broadly applicable to any training course, whether online or off, and represents a vast improvement over the “sage-on-the-stage” content-delivery model that gives corporate training its reputation of being impossible to stay awake for.

Challenges to flipping a MOOC

The biggest obstacle to flipping a MOOC depends on which type of flipping you are talking about. For the in-versus-out-of-class definition, the main challenge is getting learners to actually engage with the learning materials (i.e., watch the videos) on their own time. When Steven Blank experimented with using his Lean LaunchPad MOOC to flip a traditional course, he found that more than half of the students didn’t actually watch the videos at home. To increase engagement, he started tracking who was watching the videos and required his students to submit questions, which he used for a basis for class discussion. With the integration of big data into MOOCs, tracking what learners are doing is becoming standard.

For the second type of flip, the main challenge is that for some training departments, focusing on the learners rather than the trainer is a pretty significant departure from normal. But, as for several of the trends we’ve explored in this series, ideas about what training is and what it should be are changing. Learners are demanding more engaging, active, and relevant learning experiences, and effective L&D departments need to adapt to these new demands.

Flipping the classroom is associated with both better engagement and better learning outcomes, but just exchanging seat time for home time isn’t enough. The MOOC format, which is flexible and allows for both active learning and social/collaborative learning, can facilitate an even more profound switch so that the learners themselves become the focus of the training experience.

Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– offers 25+ years of training and talent management helping executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.

Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson

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About Bryant Nielson, Managing Director

Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance. Some have asked how to reach him. Here are some standard ways: Postal Mail: Bryant Nielson 54 Tenafly Road Tenafly, NJ 07670 Email: If you would like to contact me. Please do so via email by: clicking here. Telephone: Cell: (201) 401-4876
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