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Flipped classroom: Faster skill-building for the workplace

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For many, our classroom experience consisted of a set time when the instructor would lecture or demonstrate a new concept or idea.

Sometimes, you had to read beforehand, but the main instruction was a lecture and a presentation during class time.

Between classes, you did homework. If the topic was hands-on, you would spend that time practicing your new skill.

We are all familiar with this approach. Today, as our understanding of learning has evolved, our approach to instruction has progressed.

Combine this with the unique needs of learning in a business setting and you have an area that is ripe for innovation and implementation.

This originality takes various forms, and one that is especially useful is the flipped classroom.

According to educause.edu, in a flipped classroom, the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects or discussions.

In other words, what you normally would do in class, you would do at home. Work usually done at home would then be done in class.

This could be used in traditional learning situations such as history and English but also in more technologically advanced subjects such as math, electronics, robotics and advanced manufacturing.

It can be done for virtually any learner – schoolchildren, college students and adults.

Here is how the concept may look:

An algebra teacher gives students videos on solving algebraic equations to watch at home.

This is valuable because students can watch the videos at their own pace, pausing or rewinding as they see fit until they understand the topic – something you can't do with a traditional classroom lecture.

When the class reconvenes, after a brief review, the majority of the classroom time could be spent solving homework questions or problems with supervision and assistance by the instructor.

The flipped classroom can be used in more technical fields such as advanced manufacturing.

Traditionally, these courses were taught by an instructor. Class time generally was split about 70/30 between lecture and hands-on work.

This meant that most of the classroom time was spent listening to a lecture and not on practicing the new skill.

Often, students were left to apply and practice skills on the manufacturing floor, which often is not ideal.

The new method for instructing in advanced manufacturing involves students first taking an online component, including videos, readings and simulations.

After they pass a baseline knowledge test, they attend class where most of their time is spent demonstrating practical skills.

In most cases, they will use the same equipment in class as they will use at work. This can be programmable logic controller PanelView, a motor control unit, pneumatics or an electrical panel.

Regardless of the topic, adding a flipped classroom concept comes with considerations:

You have to understand the capacity of learners to do the online segments.

Often, these are done at home, so can students get online? If not, consider setting additional time at work to do learning modules on a company computer.

Do they have the computer skills to do an online program?

Regardless of their skill, it is a good idea to have a computer skills refresher and an orientation course to demonstrate software and answer questions.

Develop a standard to assess the student's progress.

The assessment should measure knowledge and skills related to his or her job.

It's good to do pre- and post-assessments of general knowledge through a written exam, along with a final check of applied knowledge and skills by demonstrating the skill for the teacher, supervisor or manager.

Give students opportunities to further practice their new skills. For example, if they studied programmable logic controllers, let them practice on equipment at work.

The best way is have the student shadow a more experienced employee so his or her work can be carefully supervised. If problems arise, the veteran employee can troubleshoot and offer guidance.

Using a flipped classroom can be positive for everyone, though the process should be understood and explained to learners and supervisors.

Careful consideration should be given to students' capacity to learn with this method, how to access their learning and how to apply it to the workplace.

If done correctly, it can improve employees' learning, allowing faster skill-building from classroom to workplace.

Tom Bux is the director of the Center for Leadership and Workforce Development (workforce.lccc.edu) at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville. He can be reached at tbux@lccc.edu.

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