For generations, our educational system has been based on the idea that the role of the instructor is to stand in the front of a classroom and share knowledge and enlighten students. In a sense, traditional teaching is a form of theater. The teacher plays the role of the performer on the stage, entertaining, informing, and inspiring the student audience.
Instructors have long relied on lectures as a primary method of delivering information (and this is true not only in higher education but also in continuing education, conferences, training, and the like). But, in terms of retention, lecturing alone is ineffective. To really understand the material, we need our students and employees to synthesize and apply the information. This takes discussion, practice, and interaction.
A revolution is taking place in higher education: the lecturer is no longer a solo act. New technology is allowing instructors to flip their classrooms upside down.
In one way or another, all organizations teach. Businesses train new employees on their cultures, technologies, and processes. In IT, training often accompanies a large roll out or new initiative. In fact, many IT departments have a training department or make explicit assignments to teams to conduct IT training. Thus, this educational revolution is poised to affect more than just higher education, and using the classroom as a model can improve results in the business training room.
Collaboration with an Expert
These days, many instructors assign their lectures as their students’ primary homework assignments. By its nature, though, a lecture is a performance. It’s not interactive, so why bother having the student and the instructor in the same place at the same time? Why not record it so they student can consume the lecture at a later date? In an age of effortless digital video recording and publication, capturing and distributing a lecture is an easy enough task. Skilled instructors can also enhance recorded lectures with more sophisticated and effective audio and visual aids.
With the introductory, noncollaborative learning out of the way, instructors and students can spend in-person class time on deeper learning: collective discussion, expert demonstration, practicing skills, etc. When students complete assignments on their own, without interaction, demonstration, and feedback, they may be applying and cementing those skills inaccurately and incorrectly. By practicing with the instructor present, students have a better chance of learning the material correctly.
The training room flips when the focus shifts from having the expert present to instruct the learners to having the expert present to interact with them. Discussions help auditory learners, while activities lend themselves to the kinesthetic learning style. Visual learners, meanwhile, benefit from collaborative group work. In the twenty-first century business training room, a variety of factors—teaching methodologies and techniques, technology, room design, etc.—come together to enable experts to reach a more diverse range of learners.
Making It Happen
Flipping a classroom requires instructors and business to make changes to their delivery, the teaching environment, and, often, the technology they use in those environments.
Recorded lectures require more preplanning, more confidence, and more coordination. In a recorded environment, a solid script is essential. Any expert can stand in front of a room for an hour and expound on a topic they know well. It’s much more difficult to do this in front of a camera, without an audience. No one is there to laugh at their jokes, question unclear explanations, or steer the discussion. A script (or at least an outline) will keep the recording on track.
Production quality is another important consideration. How good is good enough? If the Internet proves anything, it’s that poor production quality works some of the time, but not all of the time. A poor-quality recording may be seen as distracting and not credible, but if the message is spot-on, that poor-quality video can be just as powerful as a professional production. Bottom line: focus on the content.
When making a decision on quality, you need to balance the complexity of the production against the projected lifespan of the material. However long you expect your video to be relevant, your audio needs to be clear and your visual aids need to be readable. Also, keep in mind the needs of your audience: accessibility issues, like closed captioning, are far easier to address in the design phase, rather than trying to integrate them after the fact.
There is a wide variety of digital production tools on the market, from high-end professional tools to low-cost, easy-to-use software packages. While you can simply record your lecture in one shot and dispense with audio and video editing entirely, taking the time to learn how to use even the simple editing tools that come with most modern operating systems can greatly improve the quality of your recording. Adding a simple title, a fade-in, or a theme can go a long way toward building credibility and improving a video’s watchability. You can also use screen-capture tools to highlight details and video-capture tools to demonstrate concepts.
Once you’ve designed your lecture and decided how much effort you want to put in to the production of your video, you need to start thinking about what you’ll need to facilitate in-class activities and discussions. A flipped training room must be designed and set to facilitate collaboration. Gone are the rows of chairs, desks, and fixed computers. These have been replaced with modular furniture that can be quickly and easily rearranged into, for example, small groups for discussion or learning activities.
By assigning the lecture as homework and delivering it electronically, the screen at front of the room will also become less important. Instead, a more appropriate design could be clusters of smaller screens on which participants can share their screens, increasing the value of small-group collaborative work. The instructor can even use this configuration to share one group’s work with the other groups.
Another technology to consider in a flipped room is a feedback response system. This can be a polling device, such as clickers, or a smartphone-accessible webpage. These feedback systems allows training participants to vote, comment, or participate in a group discussion, and it provides the instructor with instant feedback so she can gauge comprehension. The instructor can then correct any mistakes and clear up any misunderstanding before moving on.
One should also consider the impact video can have in the classroom. Many flipped classrooms record group discussions and activities, or bring in participants from other locations. In these situations, camera and microphone placement is very important, as learners viewing the video later on will need to be able to see and hear clearly if the instructor expects them to participate in subsequent discussion.
The decision to put cameras in the classroom will likely influence the decisions made about other classroom technologies. For example, capturing what is written on a whiteboard can be very difficult for a camera. Your organization or institution may instead choose to install a document camera connected to a computer and use the computer’s native recording software or a third-party digital production software package.
The Dangers of Flipping Your Training
When flipping your training, there are a number of pitfalls to watch out for. The first is ensuring people understand that completing assignments before class is a requirement. If students or learners haven’t listened to the lecture, group activities will be very difficult to complete successfully. Be sure you have a plan for handling scenarios when students or learners haven’t completed their assignments.
Time is also an important consideration. People—college students and adult learners—are more distracted these days: smartphones, tablets, chat, other people, and, most importantly, their primary jobs divert people’s attention from training. To ensure success, keep your lectures brief. In fact, break them up into short (2–5 minute), topical, self-contained segments. This way, they can consume the lecture in bursts rather than marathon viewings.
Consider where your students or learners might be viewing your videos. Many learners prefer to view training lectures at home, on the train, while exercising, etc. While this may pose more of a challenge for the instructor, giving students and learners this option allows them to select the time and location that’s least distracting.
The next item to consider is distribution. Internet sites such as YouTube or Vimeo make for easy distribution, and your students or learners will be able to view the video on wide variety of devices. Be aware that some organizations or institutions might not be comfortable using these consumer sites, so make sure you review the relevant policies before uploading your videos to a social media or video-sharing site.
Finally, remember to treat the lecture as the beginning of the learning process, not the lesson in its entirety. To be able to synthesize and apply new information, students and learners need to model it, discuss it, and practice it. Make sure you follow up your recorded lectures and in-person training activities with written documentation and reminders.
The Benefits to Flipping Your Training
The benefits of flipping your training with these technologies and concepts go beyond the classroom or business training room. You can apply your video production and distribution skills to other projects, such as announcements or process changes, which can go a long way toward improving communication and retentions (as we know, training emails and memos are often skimmed, when they’re read at all).
If a staff meeting consists mostly of announcements of upcoming changes, policy and procedure reminders, or general information delivery, prerecording the meeting may make more sense. This will give your staff the freedom to watch at a time that best fits their schedules. And just because it’s prerecorded, that doesn’t mean it can’t serve as bidirectional communication: Couple the video with social media so staff can interact and post comments and questions.
These tools can also be used for troubleshooting and incident support. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine the value of video. Capturing the behavior of a malfunctioning application and sharing that video with a vendor can lead to a much quicker resolutions.
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Lecture-based training is good, but training can be so much better when it’s enhanced with demonstrations, activities, and discussion. Presenting the lecture as homework frees up time for collaborative interaction with the instructor or expert, which improves comprehension and retention. Better trained and more engaged employees lead to more efficiency, fewer support calls, and less turnover. It’s time to engage our employees in truly collaborative learning experiences.
Mark Fitzgerald has a passion for teaching, and working at universities for nearly fifteen years has opened up many opportunities to teach in both formal and informal settings. In addition to managing Boise State University’s Help Desk of Distinction, Mark teaches part time in the College of Business and Economics. He has presented several times at HDI conferences, local chapter meetings, and HDI Higher Education Forum meetings. Mark is also a member of the steering committee for the HDI Higher Education Forum and a member of the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board.