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Benjamin Joseph



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Learning in the digital age: the ‘flipped classroom’ method


Far from replacing traditional teaching methods, digital technology can actually enhance them for a new generation of learners.

Most industries have undergone wholesale disruption and digital transformation in recent years. Consumers watch the entertainment they want when they want it. They can order food from nearly anywhere on a single app. High street retail outlets are struggling to cope with the challenge of digital powerhouses like Amazon or eBay.

Despite this, the education sector is one of the few that has seen a much slower pace of change. Classroom-based, face-to-face instructor-led training, the predominant method of learning at least as far back as ancient Greece, is still the predominant approach today. 

Of course, technological advances have brought about some adaptations to the techniques used, but none have truly disrupted or revolutionised our primary mechanism for imparting knowledge to others.

Yet there is little doubt that continuing globalisation will ensure the digital disruption of learning and development. 

Changing workplace environments

As businesses increasingly look outward to trade with other companies and countries around the world, their learning and development requirements will also significantly increase. More of their people will be based overseas, and each of these individuals will have more training needs. 

To compete in a global business environment, employees will need to be proficient in languages, be aware of cultural differences and nuances in an increasingly long list of countries and possess the soft skills to excel in an ever more competitive international world. 

Human trainers can answer learners’ questions and identify their specific requirements and ways of learning in a way that no technology can.

At the same time, the habits of our workforce have changed. People expect to be able to work more flexibly – indeed around three quarters of UK employees claim that flexible working benefits would make a job more appealing, according to a study published earlier this year.

People are now using technology to simplify almost every aspect of their daily lives from shopping to banking, habits that quickly become expectations.

In the education and training sector, the inevitable net result of these macro-trends is that technology-driven learning and development will become ubiquitous in the near future. 

To cope with the ever-increasing demand for employee training and the changing expectations of employees, digital technology is essential. Traditional training methods simply can’t be scaled up at the rate demanded by the market, and workers will resist inflexible traditional methods. 

Meeting evolving training demands

Training providers will, therefore, have to be digitally savvy, or they will fail in all but the most local of contexts.

Of course, many training providers have understood this for several years. Indeed, most training companies broadly fall into two camps, one of which is very technology-driven. These technology-centred businesses deliver training through automated solutions or eLearning. 

The other camp is made up of the traditional training companies that have focused on instructor-led training but haven’t yet developed the technology to keep up with the changing modern learner and the evolving demands of the marketplace.

So, following my logic that the training providers of the future must be technologically enabled, surely the future will be dominated by the eLearning companies, right? Surely in five to ten years all professional training will be delivered by an eLearning programme, a robot or some form of artificial intelligence?

Well, no. I don’t believe this will be the case, for one simple reason. People learn best from people. Experienced human trainers have the emotional intelligence to engage their learners, adapt their training style to the needs of each individual, and make learning an enjoyable, fulfilling experience in a way that no eLearning programme can ever replicate. 

Human trainers can answer learners’ questions and identify their specific requirements and ways of learning in a way that no technology can.

Enabling human-to-human connection

So where does the future of learning and development lie? The clue is in the parallels between many of the world’s biggest business phenomenon of recent years such as Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB and Uber. They have all achieved spectacular success by using technology to connect one human to another.

Similarly, the future of training is in using technology to connect trainers to learners – in essence, to connect those who want to teach with those who want to learn, wherever they are in the world. 

Instead of using technology to replace human trainers, it is best deployed when to enhance the learning experience and develop truly transformative learning moments. 

Blended learning harnesses the best elements of human teaching with the best advantages of learning technologies. It enables training providers to scale up their resources to cope with the increasing learning needs of a globalised world.

We can all think back to a great schoolteacher who changed our lives or a manager or mentor at work that went the extra mile to help our career. These very human interactions are what made us who we are today and the same is true with learning. 

With the help of technology, corporate learners can now access the world’s best trainers, wherever they are in the world using innovative learning and virtual meeting technologies. 

Their ability to teach can be further enhanced, rather than replaced, by digital learning content and cutting-edge new ways of consuming and accessing learning content such as gamification, social learning, micro learning and mobile learning

The ‘flipped classroom’

Trainers harnessing the best learning technologies can deploy digital learning tools for tasks that lend themselves to this form of learning, while freeing up their own teaching time for subjects that require a greater degree of human interaction, such as complex topics that will stimulate questions and discussion. 

This ‘flipped classroom’ methodology is now becoming more and more sought after. 

Digital platforms can also be used to ensure quality control. Learners can digitally provide feedback on the quality of teaching they have received, providing continuous motivation for trainers to maintain high standards in the same way as a tradesman registered on TrustATrader or a property owner on AirnBnB.

This form of blended learning harnesses the best elements of human teaching with the best advantages of learning technologies. It enables training providers to scale up their resources to cope with the increasing learning needs of a globalised world.

Moreover, it does so without sacrificing the quality of teaching delivered by the very best trainers – on the contrary, enhancing this ability by enabling trainers to complement their instruction with appropriate digital tools.

The predominant training delivery mechanism in a few years’ time will not be the traditional classroom-based approach, and neither will it be an eLearning platform. It will be a blend of both. Human-led training cannot be effectively replicated by digital technology - but it can be significantly enhanced by it.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Read Learning technologies for the social media age.

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