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Flipping continuing professional development

Nicola Yeeles

Flipped classrooms are turning education upside-down: students watch videos in their own time, then come together in a curated discussion to interact and learn together with their teacher. But what about flipped learning for professional development?

Flipped learning, blended learning, mixed-mode instruction. The terms change, but the concept stays the same. Learners study material at their own pace, typically through watching videos, and then benefit from an interactive group session. Tutors spend time doing what they do best: working with individuals, guiding discussions, creating hands-on activities, and less time presenting. The pedagogy is starting to gain interest among educational researchers, too. A study in 2011 split a class of undergraduate physics students during the 12th week of their course, with half the students taught in person as usual and the other half taught through flipped learning, without a formal lecture. At the end of the week, they were tested.  In the control classroom, students gained an average score of 41%, but the flipped learners scored an average of 74%.

So could this be applied to training the staff themselves? And if tutors were more confident having been on the other end of this practice, would they feel better about using the technique with their learners? Samantha Broom, head of modern foreign languages at St Mary's Catholic Academy in Blackpool, definitely thinks so. 

Higher level learning

As someone who regularly flips her continuing professional development sessions, Samantha sees a number of benefits:

“Flipping is extremely effective as it gives everyone the opportunity to engage with the learning materials at their own speed, and this then gives you more time to go deeper into the learning during training time with professionals.”

That face-to-face learning between mentor and learner is what turns straightforward distance learning into flipped learning. These sessions may also give learners more time to engage in one-to-one discussion with the tutor, something they couldn’t do in a lecture or workshop scenario. Writing in the US publication Faculty Focus, Dr Penne Restad, who uses the flipped model to teach history at the University of Texas, has said: 

"Working in class along with a master of the discipline (you), they learn to think more critically, communicate more effectively, and have a greater appreciation for the unique importance and logic of the subject."

With such a diverse range of staff working in any learning provider, the flexibility of this approach can be particularly useful. Martin Compton is a teacher trainer and elearning specialist at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College. He uses flipped CPD to train teachers from various subject areas in one room. They may have watched subject-specific material before the session, but can discuss it more generally with colleagues from other departments.

Isabel Boothby, a participant on the eteaching course that Martin runs, explains,

"I am given tasks to do without a huge amount of support which means that I have to actually research the methods and find a way of being able to do these tasks myself. It’s the process of discovering that not only can I do it, but I can do it without a lot of scaffolding, that has been really really empowering."

Another benefit of flipped learning is in the longevity of materials.  Having an online home for a course can provide a space like this one for participants to refer back to and update themselves for continuing professional development in the truest sense.

Flipped learning and technology go hand-in-hand

Flipped CPD

Harry Wheatcroft talks about the impact and benefits of introducing online health and safety training for staff at Loughborough College

Apart from keeping people happy, Martin Compton argues that teaching using flipped learning is “a no-brainer because it’s so much easier than other forms of training”.  If shared openly, the resources only have to be created once, and can then be used across different training providers. The flipped approach is starting to become more and more integral to the second year PGCE course that Martin runs, especially in modules on curriculum development for inclusive practice, which he maintains on Blendspace, an online platform for sharing different kinds of media. 

“You could do flipped learning without technology but they go hand in hand. Cloud-based technology is the perfect flipping tool.” In some colleges like Uxbridge, the virtual learning environment is beginning to be replaced by a series of cloud resources. Martin says, “It’s also possible to massively decrease the photocopying budget; you could use a QR code to allow staff quick access to relevant resources.” Expensive projectors and screens, which can cost up to £5,000 per classroom, are replaced by instant access to the technology online. The face to face sessions tend to be lighter on the tech and more focused on peer and trainer interaction.

Panic stations

But it’s not all plain sailing. Doing things differently and taking staff out of the classroom and on to their computers for the presentation part of their learning, can raise eyebrows, at least initially. Martin says, “People panic – managers panic, even the people doing the courses panic.  It’s so counter to the norms. It’s requiring them to be independent. They like classrooms and registers.” 

But when it comes to actually doing the courses, Martin has been surprised. He says, “I can’t believe how positive everyone is.  What we are doing is to do is showing that you can release people to have the confidence to do this.”

Grassroots pressure

If learning providers want to promote this kind of upside-down thinking then they need to empower people at the grassroots, Martin argues. 

“The most effective change happens through the pressure of individuals. My desire to share has been supported by an information learning technology, or ILT, strategy.” 

That support drives a critical mass of people to become involved, which helps to drive change.

Follow Martin Compton on Twitter @eteachingx3