Is Flipped Learning looking at education the wrong way?

Article published on Education HQ Australia.

Flipped learning, the brainchild of American teacher Jonathan Bergmann, has become a buzzword in education.

According to Bergmann, a self-proclaimed “evangelist” of Flipped Learning, instead of coming to class to watch the teacher lecture, students watch the lecture at home and then come to class to practice what they’ve learned.

The result, he says on, is that classrooms are “transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter”.

Flipped Learning is often associated with Alison King’s article From Sage On The Stage, To Guide On The Side.

King urged a shift from viewing students as empty vessels into which knowledge must be transmitted, to a constructivist view of learning where students use their existing knowledge and prior experience to interact with new material and the teacher acts as a guide.

The irony of Flipped Learning is that it is the transmittal model King warned against; the teacher is still the sage, it’s just that the stage is the computer screen.

However, what would compel a student to watch a teacher-centred video at home in their free time?

Ideally, teachers strive for students to become intrinsically motivated to learn, whereby they engage in self-directed learning out of genuine interest.

Yet similar to the way in which students diligently complete homework to avoid punishment or pass a test, Flipped Learning erodes intrinsic motivation by creating a learning experience where the teacher is in control and the student is obliged to obey or face consequences.

And as Alfie Kohn asserts in Washington Post article Seven ways schools kill the love of reading in kids, “The more you rely on coercion and extrinsic inducements…the less interest students are likely to have in whatever they were induced to do”.

And what happens to students who don’t watch the video? Motivation aside, because the flipped model privileges students who are not only already engaged in their schooling, but who also have access to the Internet and a stable home life conducive to focusing on homework, it is almost guaranteed to leave many children behind.

The result is students coming to class without having the “entry ticket,” i.e. without having watched the video.

In his YouTube video The Flipped Class: Overcoming Common Hurdles, Bergmann advises teachers to reprimand these children by demanding them to “watch the video in class, while the other kids are getting help on the hard stuff.”

It’s a bleak image: in being forced to watch the video during class, the student not only feels isolated and punished, but the learning environment is far from “dynamic” and “interactive.”

The real ‘flip’ needed in classrooms is in the power dynamic between students and teachers.

Rather than investing time in creating interesting video content, teachers should have the courage to relinquish control and allow students to be autonomous and self-determined.

In doing so, teachers are facilitating the students’ capacity to become creative, intrinsically motivated lifelong learners.

If teachers fail to relinquish control, students are less likely to engage and think subtly, as the teacher “came up with it alone and imposed it onthem” Kohn adds in his article.

As Howard Gardner states in his famous book, The Unschooled Mind“typically, school is done to students,” making them passive agents.

When learning is “done to” students, the process reflects micromanagement, eroding students’ independence and autonomy.

In comparison, if teachers choose a ‘working with’ approach, they meaningfully include students in the decision making process.

As Kohn puts it, “deeper learning and enthusiasm require [teachers] to let students generate possibilities rather than just choosing items from our menu; construction is more important than selection”.

If students are to meet the complex demands of the twenty-first century, they must be given more opportunities to think for themselves and to actively construct meaning, instead of selecting from a teacher-created menu.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s