Published 1 July 2020 by www.cambridge.org
Philip Kerr has been involved in English language teaching for over 35 years as a teacher, teacher trainer and director of studies. His publications include Evolve, a new coursebook for adults and young adults, and Translation and Own-Language Activities (both from Cambridge University Press). He also works in the development of language learning apps. Here, Philip takes us through the advantages of flipped learning for an adult classroom.
What is ‘flipped learning’?
The terms flipped learning and blended learning are often used in connection with online language learning, but what exactly do they mean, and what is the difference?
The idea of ‘blended learning’ has been around for a long time, but the phrase itself was probably coined in the late 1990s (Hrastinski, 2019). It’s a mix of face-to-face lessons with online study that is intended to add to what takes place in the classroom.
The idea of the ‘flipped classroom’ or ‘flipped learning’ is more recent and remains less well-known. It’s a kind of blended learning, where study that was ‘traditionally done in the class is now done at home, and what was traditionally homework is now completed in class’ (Bergmann & Sams, 2012). In a typical approach to flipped learning, students watch a teacher’s explanation of something on video at home, and then practise what they have learnt when they come to class.
Reasons for flipping
There are many reasons why flipped learning has gained in popularity in recent years. These include:
· Helping with specific learning difficulties
· Offering a personal choice of study material
· Providing individual support
· Focussing on ‘higher order skills’
· Facilitating increased interaction between students
· Creating more opportunities for useful feedback
Engagement and attitudes
· Addressing classroom management issues
· Encouraging learner ‘ownership’ of learning
· Promoting contact between school and parents/carers
The global pandemic of 2020 has seen many changes made to the way we teach. As schools and colleges around the world make plans for the immediate future, many are turning to flipped learning as an integral part of what they will do next. Recent months have taught us that it is very hard to replicate face-to-face learning and teaching in online settings.
Group dynamics, the kinds of interaction that are possible, concentration and motivation levels all change with the shift to remote teaching with Zoom or other platforms. Because of this, it makes sense to move towards a mixture of synchronous* remote teaching and asynchronous** blended learning, when possible.
What to flip
Communication is at the heart of language learning, and most communicative activities need students to be together at the same time (whether in a physical or a virtual room). Flipping less-communicative learning activities so that they take place asynchronously can free up more class time for communicative work.
Presentations of grammar are a strong candidate for flipping. Some schools use videoed explanations. These have the advantage of allowing learners to watch at their own pace, making use of the pause and rewind buttons. The interactive guided-discovery presentations, available on platform-versions of many courses, are also effective.
The initial study of new vocabulary also lends itself to flipping. There’s a strong case for allowing learners to move at their own pace. This works particularly well with tasks where they match meanings to new items, or work out meaning from context. When combined with digital flashcard practice, learners are more likely to be ready to use the newly-studied language in meaningful practice, when they come to the synchronous lesson.
There are also good reasons for flipping both reading and listening. The possibility of re-reading or replaying texts, and of using dictionaries while doing so, means that learners of different abilities can all benefit by taking the time they need for the task.
This is not always the case in synchronous lessons. First drafts and brainstorming of written work are also appropriate for flipping. When students come together, either in a physical class or in online break-out rooms, they will benefit more from the preparatory work they have done.
First steps to flipping
Flipped learning is not without its challenges. Getting students to do homework has never been easy. With flipped learning (which prepares students for upcoming lessons), it’s even more important than with traditional homework (usually a follow-up to a lesson).
Learners will need to have some degree of autonomy because they will be working without direct supervision. Many will require training in working in this way. They will also need good internet connectivity and may require certain technical skills.
For these reasons, it’s probably a good idea to introduce flipped learning in a gradual way. Start by flipping small parts of classes, rather than jumping into a full flip in one go.
Some students – adults and more advanced learners, for example – are likely to respond better than others. So, again, gentle experimentation is advisable to begin with. The sooner you start, the more ready you’ll be for a future of language learning that may well be more online than ever before.
Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip Your Classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. Washington, D.C.: International Society for Technology in Education. Available here.
Hrastinski, S. (2019). What Do We Mean by Blended Learning? TechTrends 63, 564–569. Available here.
*Synchronous teaching is when the teacher and learners are present (online) at the same time. **Asynchronous learning takes place when learners are studying online, but the teacher is not present.