Online continuing education (CE) for professionals is here to stay.  Many professional organizations that provide CE moved to online delivery over a decade ago.  Other associations are only now making the transition to online delivery of professional education. In either instance—long-standing provider of online CE or recent provider of online CE— much of the online content consists of captured in-person events.  Of late, studio-only programs and webinars are becoming more frequently used delivery mechanism for online CE programs, and growth in that area is exciting.  However, it is time to stop thinking only about how online programs are delivered and more about how online programs are designed.

The hottest new trend in educational design is the “flipped classroom.”  A flipped classroom is any model that delivers the substance related to the subject matter in online lectures and follows up the online lectures with an in-person, interactive experience.  At the in-person follow up, time is spent doing exercises, projects or discussing the content.  Together, with the lectures and a class interaction opportunity, a complete educational experience is created.

This pedagogical model is being used with much success in lower, middle, and high schools across the country.  The flipped classroom is also being used in higher education.  Bill Nye, the science guy, thinks the flipped classroom is the way to go, and who am I to disagree with him?

Medical schools, law schools, and accounting schools are also experimenting with flipped classrooms.  A flipped classroom is a way to provide useful and practical education (something professional schools are often accused of not providing) in professional schools because the follow-up interactive session can focus on practical application—for example, using case models.

It’s now time for online CE providers to try this new model in programs targeted to professionals.  A flipped classroom approach may be the spark that lights up an entire online CE program.

What are the advantages to the flipped classroom?

  • Learners can learn at their own pace: watching video, reading materials as needed to assimilate the content.   The learner controls the lecture, as opposed to an in-person lecture where the learner is moving at the lecturer’s pace by taking notes as the lecture is presented.    This advantage exists for all on-demand, online educational programs.
  • Lectures are available at the convenience of the end user. Learners can “attend” the lectures at convenient times and places.  Again, overall big advantage to on-demand educational programs.
  • Since the flipped classroom is being used in schools now, the next generation of learners will expect to see a flipped classroom model used in the ongoing education they participate in. By designing flipped classroom educational programs you will be effectively anticipating the needs of future participants.
  • The interactive component, post an online lecture, will be fun!  Participants will come to the interactive session, curious to know what the interactive exercises or discussion will be.  A curious learner is going to be more engaged in the learning process.  This model will invigorate!
  • Instructors will have to work harder. They will not be presenting information passively, but instructors will be required to correctly identify the substantive information to be presented, present and record it effectively, and design discussion questions, hypotheticals, exercises that best enhance the substance presented.
  • Instructors will be better able to identify gaps in the delivery of the substance. The lecture and follow up interactive model better enables the instructor to identify a learner who is struggling with a concept. As opposed to the traditional model, where the student attends the lecture in person and struggles after there is no access to the instructor.

How do you plan a flipped classroom course?  First, identify a topic, create the lectures, record the lectures, and make those lectures available in your online catalog.  When selecting a topic, consider one where there may be disagreement or varying viewpoints—those types of topics make it easier to inspire lively discussion.  Second, design your interactive component, i.e. what you will do at the in-person follow up to the lectures:  discussion questions, exercises (multi-station?), and/or case studies.  Third, determine if any of the interactive exercises require you to disseminate information for consideration prior to the lecture.  (This would be in addition to the supporting materials that you will always provide with the lecture.)  Fourth, evaluate:  what worked, what didn’t work, what other topics might lend themselves to the flipped classroom format.