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Posts Tagged ‘learning

I have been thinking about this question of late. Has technology really changed the way we learn?

You will get different answers depending on who you ask. The answers stem not only from different experiences and content perspectives, but also from various levels of scrutiny.

At the moment, I offer at least four levels to tackle this question and I provide some preliminary and relatively superficial answers. The levels are:

  • Neural
  • Psychological
  • Social
  • Socio-technical

At the neural level, we learn when brain cells make new connections at the dendrite level. I doubt that position has changed because we cannot really see it happening in real time yet, but it is the established thinking on how we learn at the cellular level.

I am not aware of any studies on how technology affects learning at this level. There are people who are worried (and even paranoid) about how wireless frequencies might affect the human body, but there does not seem to be anything conclusive.

In the area of cognitive psychology and physiology, we have theories like cognitive development, schema, and neuroplasticity. Most educators should be familiar with Piaget’s cognitive development theory for children. Schema (Anderson; Ausubel) deals with how we map and categorize to create meaning for ourselves. These theories are staple to any introductory educational psychology course.

The field of neuroplasticity stems largely from studies of how people function after brain damage. Even studies on learning disabilities have shed light on how we learn. These fields are still shedding light on human learning, but I am not aware of any that focus on the longer term impact of technology.

Ever since the rise of social constructivism, researchers and practitioners seemed to have paid more attention to how we learn socially. This makes sense because this is a level we can most relate to: We talk, we listen, we interact. This has spawned strategies like cooperative learning, collaborative learning, and team-based learning. All these strategies can be enabled and mediated by technology.

Last week, Polivka nicely encapsulated Social Learning Theory. It hints at how media technologies might augment social interaction, but at its core it seems to remain we talk, we listen, and we interact in order to learn.

The most interesting field of study might be how we learn socio-technically. This emerging field recognizes that we become part of the technology and vice versa. Some people fear and judge this. Even the great Sir Ken Robinson wondered how kids could be socializing when they were looking at their phones. I noted this at the Bett conference in the UK in January this year.

Perhaps we are changing the way we learn if we embrace ourselves as socio-technical creatures. Whereas we used to rely on one or just a few sources, now we can rely on the collective intelligence of many.

Where once learning was only text-based or through the medium of air, we can now benefit from digital videos that are more entertaining, informative, time-lapsed, or sped up.

We need not be afraid to Google the dumbest or most profound questions. We can potentially connect with content experts and find global causes.

I am still not sure if learning itself has changed in a socio-technical animal. But the learning opportunities have and those might shape who we learn from, and why, where, when, and how we learn.

Video source

If anyone wants to learn, unlearn, or relearn problem-based learning, I would not recommend using a book.

Instead I would tell them to watch this video, deconstruct it, and suggest how this is PBL. Then they might compare this with academic PBL and PBL that is implemented in classrooms. As a final activity, I would ask learners how we school the PBL out of our learners.

Do you have a problem with that?

This is one of my favourite quotations. It is also one the the shortest. The only attribution I could find to it was “Proverb”, so it looks like a wisdom passed down over time.

In teaching others, we teach ourselves

Probably refined over time, wise sayings like this are based on a lot of experience and little, if any, research. But there is a some research on this as well as countless teacher observations and encounters of this sort.

The best way to learn something is to teach it. Teachers realize this innately, but are sometimes afraid to admit it or do not know how to take advantage of it. The last reason is why I include flipping the role of who the teacher is in my three dimensions of flipping.

How did I create this image quote? By using the keywords “kids” and “ipad” in ImageCodr and then doing minor edits and layering of the image below in Google Slides.

Over the last two weeks, I had the privilege of conducting two workshops for groups of motivated instructors from a local institute of higher learning.

As usual, they had a slew of questions. While I think I was able to address some of them during the workshops, there were others that were submitted to me via a Google Form that I did not get to. This is my attempt to answer those questions.

How to measure the effectiveness of flip classroom teaching & learning?

You might be tempted to say test the learners. I say let us not feed the test machine because it is fat, lazy, and greedy. Tests are not necessarily the standard for the effectiveness of flipping.

This question is also about two aspects: Teaching and learning. Teaching does not necessarily lead to learning. Ideally this is the case in the flipped classroom (which focuses on the teacher’s efforts); this is not necessarily the case in flipped learning (which focuses on the learners’ efforts).

However, to get a measure of effectiveness of both the flipped classroom and flipped, learning, you might consider:

  • increased attendance (reduced truancy);
  • increased motivation or interest in a subject;
  • more critical and creative thinking, and better attitudes.

In other words, I recommend operating outside the test box because flipping is an opportunity to do things differently.

How do we assess whether students are able to grasp the particular learning outcome from flipped classroom learning?

If you have academic outcomes that need to be addressed, you might approach this the same way as non-flipped courses. You could do this as long as those approaches do not undermine the flipping efforts.

For example, no or low stakes quizzes might be fine if you design them for formative assessment and just-in-time teaching. But if you and your students only need to prepare for a single major test, then both of you will rationalize that everything else is not important. You will then focus only on the test results.

Instead, design for formative feedback and measures of change in attitudes, behaviours, and performance. This might involve the inputs and approval of administrators and policymakers, and this is how flipping can be a strategic key element in systemic change.

If a student did not read or prepare the materials in advance (regardless of reasons), how can facilitaton be continued when the class meets


How to avoid re-teaching the “flipped content” when learners come back to class unprepared (not read or viewed or attempted pre-lesson activities)


How to motivate students to do flipped learning when they want to be spoon fed all the time?

Reduce the urge to re-deliver content; it is the students’ responsibility to consume content outside class in a flipped classroom. If you re-deliver, you undo your efforts to flip and undermine the efforts of the students who did their part.

Instead you could:

  1. apply social pressure by not repeating the content;
  2. not punish students who had legitimate reasons for not consuming content beforehand by creating a learning station or corner for that purpose;
  3. design for flipped learning (make the learner the content creator and teacher) instead of relying on the flipped classroom model.

Flipping requires that you starve an old and irrelevant monster. Feed it and it will gain strength and take control again.

Is flipped learning suitable for Year 1 Sem 1 students (freshie)?

The flipped classroom and flipped learning is not dependent on age, ability, or aptitude. It is up to the creativity and care of the teacher who flips his or her classroom. Anyone can and should create and teach content, and that is why teachers should flip the learning.

When a group of students have prepared the content and they are presenting, how to get the other students interested in their presentation?

This is not just an issue of the flipped classroom. You cannot make anyone interested in something they have no stake in. So create that sense of ownership and give it to them. How you do this is a function of your experience, creativity, and care for your learners.

How to design flipped learning effectively if my class consists of students of diverse learning abilities/motivation?

The method I modelled was to use station-based learning. The stations were pitched at different levels and needs, but were designed with the same learning outcomes.

Another important method is projects where students learn by creating content and teaching based on where they are at and with something they can relate to.

What motivations are there for students to look at the materials outside of their official classroom hours?

If they have no stake or interest in it, frankly none. You are asking them to watch, read, or listen to your content or your interest. That is a function of teaching.

Focusing on the learner and learning is about figuring out what makes our students tick. Instead of answers, I ask some questions in return:

  • What makes them gravitate towards YouTube videos?
  • Why do they want to spend time on certain forms of social media?
  • How to they get the energy to pursue their passions?

As I survey local flipped classroom and flipped learning ventures, and work with educators involved with these efforts, I have observed at least three patterns. There are the:

  1. Lone wolves
  2. Pockets of innovators
  3. Coordinated efforts
wolf by Cloudtail, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Cloudtail 

The lone wolves are the most common. They are mostly energetic and fairly informed individual who chose to work alone or do so under the circumstances. They do this because they are the peripheral innovators and/or they do not have  support.

Every organization has lone wolves and innovators, but they are not the same thing. I am referring to flippers who are both. They work faster and are willing to try and make mistakes alone.

But this asset is also their greatest liability. The run the highest risk of burnout or moving from one cool thing to do to another. They also risk being socially marginalized in their organizations if they are perceived to be aloof or too clever.

I have noticed lone wolf flipping die out within months. Most efforts are not sustainable because there is only one battery and bulb in a very dark room.

The pockets of innovators may or may not include lone wolves. They might be led by a former lone wolf. These are best represented by group of three to five teachers who share a common academic interest.

These pockets are likely to have the support of higher ups and their flipping efforts revolve around lesson planning and preparing videos for students. They might work semester to semester or have year-long plans. They deal only with their content area and for a selection of classes (rarely an entire level).

pockets of dolls by visagency, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  visagency 

Managed and supported well the pockets of innovators become coordinated efforts. The innovators might share their stories with others within their school or to a larger audience. Others buy in or are roped in by a school leader.

The flipping efforts cross academic subjects and involve entire levels of students. If ambitious enough, a coordinator of such flipping efforts might implement plans for other levels of students.

Such coordinated efforts are few. Even fewer are successful stories. Larger teams might mean more complex innovation because the small team efforts do not always scale up. A wise coordinator will realize this and manage pockets with a larger fabric.

There is a variant of coordinated efforts that could involve more than one school. This is practically non-existent as many schools here operate like Apple and Google. They do not share secrets.

This is a shame because schools do not have to be like that. Fortunately, there is an emerging level that is higher than that takes advantage of the first two categories. Educators on social media already connect on Twitter with hashtags like #flipclass or visit any of the repositories on flipping to learn from each other.

I might seem to imply that there is a better way to manage flipping efforts, but the different circumstances shape what different educators do.

The only thing I can say with certainty is that most focus on flipping their classrooms instead of flipping the learning. The latter is better [1] [2] because it nurtures the truly independent learner, changes pedagogy, and leverages on technology powerfully and meaningfully.

I shared this resource recently.

I agree with the three main critiques of flipping: 1) Too much focus on videos, 2) no change or conversations on pedagogy, and 3) sacrificing personal time for curriculum time. I have said the same things in my workshops, seminars (samples), and videos.

But I take issue with the critique being on flipped learning. The problems are really about the superficial shifts and potential harm done in flipped classrooms.

What is the difference between the two?

There are several, but here is the most important. The flipped classroom focuses on what the teacher can do; flipped learning focuses on the learner and the processes of learning. In flipped learning, the focus is not teacher-created videos, and tired and old pedagogy. It is certainly not about creating curriculum time at the expense of learners’ rest, family, entertainment, or social time.

When you flip learning, you nurture more self-directed and independent learners. You do this by giving ownership of the problem-seeking and the problem-solving to learners. You show them how to design outcomes, find resources, and evaluate themselves. You flip the learning by getting them to create content and to teach with it.

While this is not an argument about semantics (“classroom” vs “learning”), words hold powerful meaning in themselves and should not be interpreted or used flippantly. More importantly, the implementation of a flipped classroom is very different from the experiences generated by flipping who the content creator and teacher are.

I had the opportunity to share this quote during workshops I conducted over the last two weeks. It emphasizes the importance on focusing on the learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching.

That is not to say that the teacher is not important. Teachers are, but not in the traditional delivery-oriented way. There is so much information on the Internet and in the minds and experiences of our learners. Teachers need to learn how to create that smart room and to create group smarts.

As is my new habit, I used Haiku Deck to create the image quote. I took the precaution of searching for an image in ImageCodr first. When I found it, I shared the URL with Haiku Deck. This allowed me to attribute the photo properly.

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