Flipped learning: Professor tested, student approved

Seven in 10 students say they watch online lectures more than once.

Marcio Oliveira could see the benefits of his kinesiology course’s flipped learning approach with every new hand that popped up in the first minute of every class, as students peppered him with questions. But he needed more than anecdotal evidence, so he conducted a survey, and the results proved that the hands didn’t lie.

Oliveira, a professor and assistant chair in the University of Maryland’s Department of Kinesiology, began his flipped learning experimentation during the spring 2009 semester in his 200-student class, turning the traditional learning model on its head: students learn content outside of class—through podcasts and recorded lectures, mostly—and do what was once known as homework during class, with the help of professors.

Students seemed to appreciate the flexibility of watching lectures online, outside of class, and having Oliveira and his teaching assistants (TAs) answer questions during class and in smaller sections headed by the TAs. It wasn’t until Oliveira asked students about the flipped model that he knew how popular the approach had become.

It turns out college students—or at the very least, Oliveira’s students—are all for the usurping of the traditional educational model.

Six in 10 UMD students who responded to the survey said the flipped learning approach has been “effective” for “overall learning,” with one-fourth of respondents saying they were neutral about the learning model. More than two-thirds of Oliveira’s students said they would take another class that used the flipped approach after positive experiences in the kinesiology course.

“It’s so pretentious for an instructor to think their students can only learn when the instructor is present,” said Oliveira, who earned a grant from UMD’s provost after arguing the benefits of flipped learning. “One of the biggest mistakes that educators make is thinking that every student can learn the same with the same approach. Learning doesn’t happen in my head, it happens in my students’ heads.”

Moving away from a content-centric college class model, he said, soon will be the only option in an internet culture that makes reams of information available to students outside of class, just a web search away.

“The university needs to go beyond what is Googleable,” Oliveira said. “Delivering information is not going to be the focus on education anymore, and it really hasn’t for some time now.”

The spread of always-available, high-speed internet service and the student demand for online course content has led educators from elementary school to the campus lecture hall to question the centrality of their in-class summaries of the day’s lessons.

This newfound skepticism of the efficacy of traditional lectures—and the homework spawned from each—has, in many ways, cleared the way for the flipped learning approach and its cousin, blended learning, a model that has proven wildly popular in national higher-education surveys.

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