I have said before that the real innovation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is not technological (after all, we already had online videos, forums, and blogs), but pedagogical – the idea that content is king has been steamrolled by the Internet and the spread of open educational resources. MOOCs have challenged the dominant thinking about how people learn. And guess what? Sitting in a room and listening to someone talk for an hour or three isn’t it – mere exposure to content does not equal learning. People learn by engaging with content, participating in hands-on activities, and teaching and learning from their peers. So why does so much of corporate training still involve an instructor flipping through a seemingly endless PowerPoint slide deck?
The MOOC model involves students watching short videos for content and then performing active learning activities, such as participating in discussions, working through simulations, collaborating on projects, and writing and peer-reviewing essays. The content delivery portion of a MOOC is typically short, with each video lasting no more than 10 to 12 minutes, while the real emphasis is on applying the newly acquired knowledge and skills and connecting and collaborating with others. Content, which thanks to Google is always at our fingertips, takes a backseat to building personal knowledge networks and solving real-world problems.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the MOOC explosion has occurred side-by-side with a rise in popularity of the “flipped classroom” model, in which the traditional method of classroom delivery is flipped on its head. In a traditional classroom, the instructor lectures during class time and then sends the students home with homework. In a flipped classroom, the students watch pre-recorded video lectures in advance and then use class time to do activities like research projects, group work, and so on.
The flipped classroom model is not particularly new – it has its roots in the early 1990s and a version of it has been used in higher-level college seminars for years. But the idea of flipping K-12 and lower-level college classrooms has only recently taken off, and although there has been a lot of speculation about flipping the corporate classroom, trainers seem reticent to adopt the trend. However, the Millennials and future digital native generations entering the workforce will require more active engagement than listening to dull PowerPoint lectures. As George Bradt wrote in a Forbes article advocating flipping business presentations: “When Generation Z – the Internet generation – enters the workforce, their expectations for business presentations will be drastically different from those today. If you don’t change with them, no one is going to pay attention to you anymore.”
So what are the advantages of flipping the corporate classroom and how can you use MOOCs to do it?
When you flip a classroom, the instructor moves (in popular jargon) from being a “sage on the stage” to being “a guide on the side.” The training becomes participant-focused rather than either instructor- or content-focused. The benefit of this switch is clear: people who actively participate in their own education learn better than people who don’t. Flipped classrooms, like MOOCs, also have the potential to confer huge cost savings – rather than paying trainers to deliver the same presentation to multiple groups, the presentation needs to be recorded only once.
Barbi Honeycutt, the founder of Flip It Consulting, recommends that trainers “start with the question, ‘What are the participants going to do during the training program?’ The emphasis is on the word ‘during’ because flipped training programs emphasize the application, analysis, and evaluation of the material during the learning experience, not afterwards.” For example, one frequent training need is learning how to use a new software package. Often, an instructor will deliver a tutorial in person and then the employees will be sent back to their desks to perform tasks using the software. In a flipped setting, the employees would watch video tutorials in advance and then come together to work through the tasks. This format allows learners to take as much time as they need with the material, rewinding and replaying the tutorials as necessary, and to ask questions and receive support while they are actually working with the software package. Honeycutt recommends that trainers start with figuring out the goal of the training – what the employees need to be able to do – and then “design [an] environment to allow time and space for participants to actually do it.”
This idea may sound radical, but it really shouldn’t – training is unique in that it is the only type of education where the emphasis is almost entirely on building skills and competencies. Because organizations need to train their employees quickly and have those employees be able to apply the training immediately, it only makes sense that training sessions focus on practical applications and real-world problem solving. Flipped classrooms also give employees opportunities to interact with subject matter experts in ways that might not normally be available.
Although MOOCs are not inherently flipped (in fact, many merely replicate the “sage on the stage” model), they do provide an excellent framework for flipping. Any type of training that relies on lectures can be flipped, and there are already examples of MOOCs being used to flip classrooms in higher education. For example, MOOC provider edX has teamed up with two community colleges in the Boston area to offer computer courses that are not usually available at the schools. Students access the edX lectures and other online resources from home and then work on projects in class.
MOOCs offer many flipping options for corporate trainers. They can be used in blended programs, like the edX/community college partnership. But with the availability of myriad technology-enabled social learning tools, like applications for collaborative documents, shared work spaces, and virtual meetings, the entire flipped classroom experience can be emulated within the MOOC itself.
Flipped classrooms and MOOCs are just starting to come together, but they have the potential to be as powerful for training and professional development as they are in education. Start thinking now about how your organization can flip a whole training program, or even just a class. As the creators of the following video suggest, flipping is the vehicle to the future. Don’t be left behind.
Copyright 2013 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