- Inverted learning: turning traditional teaching methods upside-down

Inverted learning: turning traditional teaching methods upside-down

By Sheik Malik

Background

For today’s engineers, it is simply not enough to graduate university with the necessary technical capabilities to be able to successfully navigate the challenging modern industrial landscape. A host of additional skills and theoretical knowledge can give students a competitive advantage over their similarly qualified peers.

With the way we communicate information constantly changing, how can universities instil the so-called transferable skills such as critical thinking and teamwork in student-centred learning whilst simultaneously ensuring that what they are teaching is providing a maximal level of conceptional understanding and boosting student engagement?

Research has shown that active learning is a powerful learning tool as compared with conventional teaching when delivered effectively. Yet, there are several potential barriers that educators experience in delivering these outcomes requiring innovation in the traditional pedagogies typically encountered in university engineering courses.

The slow adoption of active learning as an effective educational method can be distilled down to two frequently held beliefs; the robust engagement of students comes at the sacrifice of critical course content. Secondly, that the preparatory efforts of organising the curriculum and its associated intended learning outcomes will substantially increase.

Insights into the Problem

In a recent paper, Alcaraz et.al [1] demonstrated that both perceptions were false, establishing an alternative teaching framework called inverted learning, evaluated through implementation in an introductory Digital Systems course. Practical laboratory sessions remained unchanged. Divergence from traditional teaching methods occurred through the use of inverted lectures where theoretical material was disseminated out with the class while lecturer-driven tutorials and classes focusing on active learning.

Using hands-on, practical activities, it was hoped that strong links between theory and practice within the confines of the course could be forged and applied beyond the explored learning environment. An additional aim of the study was to investigate the sustained use of inverted learning-based frameworks and their overall benefits to students. This was measured by answering three key research questions; can inverted learning be proven more effective at increasing student engagement whilst offering a more immersive understanding of key concepts in the syllabus? Could a blended approach of offering both traditional teaching and inverted learning methods be more effective than both individually? Finally, do inverted learning methods and their associated frameworks increase the burden for both course instructors and students alike?

Pragmatic Solutions

The Digital Systems course which was the focus of this study had the following requirements for students: 40 hours of lectures coupled with 20 hours of laboratory sessions held over 13 weeks. There were 10 associated intended learning outcomes allowing for the assessment of the student's comprehension and engagement with the materials.

Sustained evaluation of the course over six academic years provided the opportunity to study the framework with successive peer groups with a total of 184 full-time students participating in the study. Students were allocated into one of three groups, traditional teaching, inverted learning and inverted learning framework with various activities carried out pre, in, and post-class.

Linking the results to the research questions, it was shown that traditional teaching methods did not completely serve the student cohort in effectively consolidating their learning in comparison with the inverted learning and framework methods. Students in these groups also reported feeling more engaged throughout the learning process. Those in the inverted learning framework group also demonstrated the greatest level of theoretical understanding. Finally, it was discovered that implementation of the inverted learning and inverted learning framework models did not increase the amount of work necessary for either student or the course leader.

Successes, Limitations and Measurable Impacts

The advantages of the aforementioned methodologies have clear successes in improving student learning and engagement but as stated, have been met previously with some resistance. This study highlights the compelling evidence to the contrary. Impacts of the research can be measured using student attendance rates, student marks and satisfaction all of which are readily transferrable metrics which can be applied across institutions globally.

The study had several limitations acknowledged by the authors which included the reliability of self-reported workload by staff and students and how best they could ensure the engagement of lower-performing students to improve their levels of attainment.

From the data collected in this study, should wider-scale adoption of the inverted learning and inverted learning frameworks be employed over typical traditional teaching methodologies the following advice should be considered:

  • Produce guidelines prior to the course start date which includes pre-class reading materials and suggestions on how students should allocate their time to each aspect of the syllabus.
  • Encouragement from the course leader for students to openly communicate through email and discussion boards. Persistence to overcome initial reluctance of students to ask for help when they are struggling had clear benefits.
  • Prompt responses from lecturers to questions from students allowed them to maintain an effective working schedule and prevented issues with class materials from building up, impeding the learning process.
  • The use of short, high-quality videos for use in lectures and tutorials was found to be highly effective. However, particular emphasis should be placed on ensuring the material is closely aligned with the intended learning outcomes of the course and that the content is from distinguished sources.

Conclusion

Whilst this study focused on an engineering course, the benefits of following inverted learning methodologies could successfully be applied across all faculties and courses with demonstrable improvements to student learning and to teaching resulting from these changes.

Offering students, the ability to gain a deeper comprehension of the syllabus and engagement with the material has not only profound benefits for them, but for institutions as a whole with such gains continuing to be felt well beyond the remits of the lecture hall.

FAQ

Q: How does inverted learning specifically address the development of transferable skills such as critical thinking and teamwork?

A: Inverted learning actively promotes the development of transferable skills by placing students in situations where they need to engage with material both independently and in groups before class. This approach encourages critical thinking as students must understand and apply concepts on their own and then bring their insights to collaborative sessions. Teamwork is naturally fostered during in-class activities where students work together to solve problems or discuss theories, providing a platform for each student voice to be heard and valued. This method contrasts with traditional lectures by creating opportunities for students to practice and develop these skills in a real-world context, making the learning process more relevant and engaging.

Q: What specific challenges did instructors face when transitioning from traditional to inverted learning methods, and how were these overcome?

A: Instructors faced several challenges when transitioning to inverted learning methods, including redesigning course materials, managing the increased need for interactive content, and ensuring that students engaged with pre-class materials. To overcome these challenges, educators often had to invest time upfront to prepare engaging and relevant materials, such as high-quality videos and readings aligned with learning outcomes. Encouraging student voice through open communication channels like email and discussion boards helped to mitigate reluctance from students to engage with the new format. Persistence from instructors in promoting these communication methods ensured that students felt supported throughout the transition. Additionally, feedback mechanisms were crucial for adapting teaching strategies to better meet student needs, allowing for a smoother transition and more effective learning experiences.

Q: Are there any case studies or comparisons available that show the impact of inverted learning on students with different student needs or needs?

A: While the blog post does not mention specific case studies, the concept of inverted learning is designed to cater to various student needs and needs by providing flexibility in how information is consumed and understood. Inverted learning allows students to engage with lecture materials at their own pace before class, which can benefit those who need more time to absorb information or prefer learning through different mediums. The active, in-class component then gives students the chance to apply what they have learned in a collaborative environment, supporting those who thrive on interaction and practical application. The inclusion of student voice in the learning process ensures that students feel their individual student needs and needs are acknowledged and supported. However, for detailed examples and comparisons, academic literature and educational research journals may provide specific case studies showing the impact of inverted learning across diverse student groups.

References

[Source Paper] Alcaraz, R., A. Martínez-Rodrigo, Roberto Zangróniz and J. Rieta. “Blending Inverted Lectures and Laboratory Experiments to Improve Learning in an Introductory Course in Digital Systems.” IEEE Transactions on Education 63 (2020): 144-154.
DOI: 10.1109/TE.2019.2954393

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