July 25, 2012

Is Brick & Mortar Education Going to be Left in the Dust by Online Learning & Flipped Classrooms?

Andrew Maynard, Director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health raised this provocative issue in his recent article for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies “Online Learning is where Online Music was five years ago.

Maynard reports in the wake of a heavily attended special session on education from VidCon’s Third Annual Conference, held the last week of June in the Anaheim Convention Center. According to Maynard, a distinguished panel of experts largely from commercial and independent video production identified with wide consensus that Online Video-Based Education is on the cusp of something really big. The transition is led by an influx of online educational resources centering around YouTube and featuring famous early adopters like the Kahn Academy and the PBS Idea Channel. (Check Maynard’s article to see many more.)

The core of this widespread adoption of online learning resources the panel suggested can in fact be found in the emphasis on ‘learning’ rather than ‘teaching.’ Of course this is hardly a new idea, and hardly something of which mainstream brick-and-mortar educators are unaware. Cognitive theories of education that anchor approaches like Constructivism have been suggested as preferable approaches for many decades. Unfortunately traditional educational institutions, as well as certification bodies and most notably political administrations have long favored didactic instruction (basically drill and kill, lecture-centric approaches to education) because the results of these methods are far simpler to track and report.

The Constructivist approach to learning is rooted in the work of John Dewey from (wait for it) the late 1800’s. No, that’s not a typo. Dewey strongly promoted an active learner-centered approach to learning. This led to the Montesori schools and notions of the teacher as facilitator. Eventually whole curricula would be developed based in Constructivist methods, but as so many educational paradigms are, this has been largely hijacked by reactionary extremists on both the didactic educational end of the continuum and on the Constructivist end.

In 1993 Alison King published an article in College Teaching magazine entitled “From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side.” Around that time I was studying College teaching (now Higher Education) at the University of Arkansas. And King’s work was among many resources we read on educational paradigms, history etc. It had an instantly penetrating power and I was not at all surprised to see the resurgence of concepts from King forming in the many Constructivist ideas being presented in today’s new efforts to re-introduce Constructivist methods by using educational technologies to free teachers from what has been perceived and painted as the chains which bind them to PowerPoint lectures, worksheets and overheads.

You might for example have read headlines recently about ‘Flipped Classrooms.‘ The core idea here is centering the classroom around the learner by creating a blended environment. (As an aside, I’m such a huge fan of blended environments, moderation in the application of methodologies and common sense education I find it difficult not to add a hurrah for compromise.)

Flipped Classrooms, like many Constructivist approaches, have significant potential problems as well as enormous potential benefits. Considered simply, educators are generally not trained to handle highly engaged individualized instruction. Sadly, most pre-professional teaching programs (the places that educate the teachers) have deeply invested in a culture that promotes students who are highly successful products of didactic (infodump) style instruction. Having taught thousands of these future teachers I can assure you that they in general highly focused, highly performing machines. Unfortunately they tend to be very limited in their ability to adapt. Decades of positive reinforcement for list-following, note-taking, and info-dump absorbing behaviors have left most as masters of drill and kill, didactic instructional methods and other approaches that simply replicate the largely failing classrooms from which they came.

Creative and adaptive learners tend to be rooted out of pre-professional education programs because they think creatively, propose different solutions than are expected, and reject much of the traditional educational machine. One of the most difficult parts of learning to guide students as an effective teacher in the Constructivist setting is learning to stay out of their way. The teacher’s first impulse is to teach. The guide’s first impulse is to facilitate discovery. We know from cognitive theory that information discovered by the learner will have a far more lasting and dramatic impact, but knowing and doing are often vastly different things.

A very wise educator / guide once said that ‘whomever is working the hardest in the classroom, is learning the most.’ (someone will help me recall the source and post in comments I hope.) It’s a very easy way to sum up the paradigm shift.

So why do I celebrate the blended approach in a Flipped Classroom? Simply put, the didactic elements of the instruction have been moved to a better medium. I’d encourage you to have a look at my last blog on the amazing new technology from Adobe that supports this sort of approach for teachers, really anyone who doesn’t have the first clue how to start creating videos for this approach. Crazy simple software that virtually anyone can use with virtually no training needed to get started. Now you can capture your lectures with incredible ease and pop them into short video snippets. This facilitates learning better because often students ‘tune-out’ during the lecture. Shorter snippets reduce the chances of that happening and give them the opportunity to replay anything that is unclear, even outside of class.

Meanwhile, you the teacher, have the opportunity to provide individual instruction to students at the moment they are beginning to discover key concepts. I’d of course recommend positioning these things in the form of nearly-impossible challenges. Asking critical questions of students has most often proven for me to be the best way to kick off a particular topic in a way that forces them to self-discover new ideas and build on their own prior schema. If a lesson on flight begins with the question how is it that a bumble bee can fly – the last thing you want to do is tell the students the answer. It is far more effective to provide them a powerful architecture on which they may rapidly build theories. As long as you’ve prepared enough information to cover the key objectives you hope the students learn about flight, the beauty is that they’ll be applying and synthesizing, evaluating and inventing new concepts based on the key ideas you’ve provided them as a ladder.

So what are your thoughts about Flipped Classrooms, Sage on the Stage-vs-Guide on the Side? As always please don’t hesitate to leave comments and questions below. Or better yet: Download the new Adobe Presenter 8 – Launch that Adobe Presenter Video Creator, and let me know using video.

Posted by Allen Partridge4:25 PM


  • By Brandon S - 9:07 PM on July 25, 2012  

    >A very wise educator / guide once said that ‘whomever is working the hardest in the classroom, is learning the most.’ (someone will help me recall the source and post in comments I hope.)
    Dr. Anne Davies?

  • By Xiaoqiao ZhaoLi - 10:17 PM on July 25, 2012  

    Thanks so much for sharing this marvelous article! It not only presents wonderful explanation of theoretical and practical foundations of the educational field, but also provides the insightful pre-vision of the paradigm-shift trend for future teaching and learning in the ‘me’Learning environment. In the tech-rich situation, self-discovery becomes the priority for learners to construct knowledge beyond simple memorization & understanding and the result of this process is to cultivate critical thinking skills and enhance re-configuration of learners’ knowledge scope. That is also what constructivist (Bunner & Vygotsky) and radical constructivist (Glasersfeld) proposed in their research for ensuring meaningful and insightful learning. Instructors need to shift from supervisor to facilitator while learners turn from receivers to reflective participants. The challenging question seems to become how instructors perform scaffolding with what degree and when to remove scaffolding to leave more space for self-discovery and intelligent creativity in the ‘me’Learning environment. And also the learners’ responsibility to……Thanks!!

  • By Xiaoqiao ZhaoLi - 1:05 AM on July 26, 2012  

    Yes, flipped eIWCS model is always the best with various levels of flexibility under the guidance of intelligent field expert and it provides endless possibility for improvement and development.

  • By King Lion Fan - 10:07 PM on July 28, 2012  

    When downloading the AP8, the system gave the following error warning:

    Error in installing Adobe Captivate 8

    Exit Code: 7
    Please see specific errors and warnings below for troubleshooting. For example, WARNING: DW065 …

    ————————————– Summary ————————————–

    – 0 fatal error(s), 2 error(s), 1 warning(s)

    WARNING: DW065: Display requirements not met for {B00674D5-C129-11E1-B356-EF8CA3116C83} Adobe Presenter 8

    ERROR: Presenter 32 bit can only be installed with Powerpoint 32 bit. Office Powerpoint 32 bit cannot be found on your system.

    ERROR: System check returned with error : 6

    Don’t know what happened


    • By Allen Partridge - 3:05 PM on July 29, 2012  

      King Lion, do you have Microsoft Office on the computer on which you are attempting to install Presenter 8? You’ll need PowerPoint, and you’ll need to install the 64 bit version if you have a 64 bit version of office, or 32 bit if you have 32 bit office.

      (I know that 32 bit part is odd still. Basically computers are generally transitioning from one standard to a higher one [32 to 64] and software has to be written to run on one standard or the other. So in general you have to install software that is meant for your operating system – in this case that is running the same bit.)

      It’s also possible (perhaps even more likely) that you tried to install the software, but you don’t have Microsoft Office installed. Presenter 8 is a plug-in for Microsoft PowerPoint. So you’ll need PowerPoint installed before you can add Presenter. Also please note that this only works on Office for Windows. Mac is not supported.

      • By King Lion Fan - 9:51 PM on July 29, 2012  

        Thanks a lot for your careful explanation! You are soooo intelligent…you are right, that is the problem of my previous Powerpoint installation based on a foreign software program. It might not be compatible with the new program. Then I installed a 32-bit new one and will see whether it works.
        hanks again and have a nice weekend!

  • By am - 4:42 AM on July 31, 2012  

    1. I used captivate to create an example with audio. When I try to play it in firefox, i cannot hear the audio. I works fine on IE/Chrome. Is there anything I can do to make it play the audio in firefox?

    2. I would like to distribute the example as a pdf (which plays the simulation). However, it doesnt seem to work on linux machines. What can i do to make the captivate created pdf to play on linux machines?

  • By Cyberike - 9:00 PM on July 31, 2012  

    Hello Allen. I only recently discovered Captivate (about 3 months ago), and in the last couple weeks have been using Presenter in my powerpoint presentations. They are both incredibly powerful, while being very easy to learn and use. While there are still some areas I have trouble with (I developed a control panel in Captivate for audio and external resources which requires a Captivate template, a template that is covered and useless when importing a PP into Captivate), I was able to develop a usable presentation (with more features than PP) in just a few days, and good presentations after a month or so of learning.

    A couple of problems. First, as easy as Captivate and Presenter are, schools are asking teachers themselves to develop content using those tools. Not only are teachers WAAAYYYY too busy, they are the wrong people (in general – there are some extremely talented and motivated teachers who will be fine). While a single individual can create a great interactive lesson, it does take time, and it really needs to be a team effort with experts in Flash, Photoshop, and video editing. I don’t see schools creating these teams, and putting staff, time and money into the effort.

    Second, we seem to think students are perfectly motivated, and they are not. A good student will work outside the classroom (necessary for a “flipped” classroom), but many simply will not. Period. In fact, the trend (school culture) is for students to do as little work as possible in school. The “cool” students are the slouchers, the lazy, the disruptive students.

    I believe in elearning. I believe in the power of technology to create visually compelling, interactive lessons that are powerful drivers for student learning. You mention that the person who is working the hardest learns the most, but we still have not come up with ways to make students do the work, and until they work on their own education they are still not learning regardless of the learning format.

    A teacher is still necessary to (force? compel? tease?) get a student to do any significant, focused work in the classroom. That’s the job, that’s why teachers are exhausted at the end of the day.

  • By Educationnest - 3:20 PM on January 17, 2013  

    Thanks for sharing the very informative article with us.

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