Insights through the FLED Project: Flipped Learning and Flexibility in Higher Education Context
Almost four years ago, COVID-19 pandemic led to abrupt pedagogical shifts in the mode of course delivery for some years and technology became central to the learning and teaching process. Ever since, the educational landscape started to constantly evolve – the technological advancements have been reshaping traditional classrooms; teachers in higher education are increasingly recognizing the need of innovative flexible approaches to cater to the diverse needs of students today. Two transformative methodologies – flipped learning (or flipped classroom) and the synchronous hybrid model, have emerged as forces of change in higher education.
This blog post discusses the intersection of these two flexible learning models, exploring how the synchronous hybrid model can revolutionize and enhance the flipped learning experience within the context where I actively work – as a lecturer at Sofia University.
Sofia University stands as a key international partner in the FLeD project, pooling its expertise and resources to advance innovative teaching techniques and inclusive education. Flipped learning and flexible education models take center stage in the FLeD project because they address critical challenges in contemporary education. These models empower educators to harness digital technologies for engaging and inclusive learning experiences. Sofia University recognizes the significance of these models in equipping university teachers to navigate the complexities of higher education effectively and make it more inclusive.
To address these issues, I will now introduce the definition of flipped learning, discuss our experience in applying these models, followed by synthesis of relevant research findings.
Definition and Meaning
Flipped learning often referred to as the ‘flipped classroom’, disrupts traditional teaching paradigms by restructuring the learning process. It involves students engaging with instructional content before class, allowing in-person sessions to prioritize collaborative discussions, problem-solving, and the practical application of knowledge. In other words, rather than the conventional method of instructors delivering lectures in class and assigning homework for independent study, flipped learning inverts this sequence. Students are assigned preparatory materials such as videos, readings, or interactive modules to engage with outside of class. Subsequently, in-class time is transformed into a collaborative, activity-based environment where students actively apply their understanding and engage in discussions. The model can be additionally enhanced by adding activities after the in-person session aimed at consolidating the new knowledge and skills, complimented by activities for self-evaluation.
On the other hand, the synchronous hybrid model introduces a dynamic layer of flexibility by enabling students to choose between attending in-person physical classes or participating synchronously online. It allows for real-time interaction between the students on-site and the students online. They participate together in the collaborative activities through a synchronous virtual classroom and various online collaborative tools, such as online whiteboards, shared presentations, etc.
Consider a scenario where part of the class is physically present while others participate synchronously online through a synchronous virtual classroom. Collaborative discussions, group activities, and peer interactions seamlessly transcend the classroom’s physical boundaries. Thus, the remote students remain an integral part of the learning community, experiencing the same level of engagement as their in-person peers. This inclusion enriches the learning experience for all and fosters a sense of belonging among students.
This scenario is not a mere abstraction; it finds realization within certain Master Degree Programs offered by Sofia University, such as ICT in Education and Design for Digital Learning. In these programs, the flipped classroom model takes a key role, with a substantial 70% of learning content delivered asynchronously, allowing students to self-prepare effectively. However, as the programs gather students from diverse locations, the challenge of in-person attendance for the remaining 30% arises. Here the synchronous hybrid mode, facilitated through a virtual classroom, bridges the gap seamlessly. Collaborative activities, designed for discussions and teamwork, are conducted within this hybrid environment, enabling students from both modalities (remote and physical) to work together.
Figure 1. Screenshot from a synchronous hybrid session at Sofia University
To facilitate the implementation of these flexible learning approaches, a variety of tools are employed. The activities before the in-person session are assigned in the Moodle platform, using different tools – presentation sharing, video lectures, and reading resources for effective self-preparation. During in-person sessions, an array of collaborative tools further enhance the experience. The virtual classroom online whiteboard facilitates content presentation and collaborative tasks, while breakout rooms foster cooperation by grouping on-site and online students into smaller teams. The process continues after the in-person session, as follow-up activities are assigned asynchronously through Moodle.
The process described above can be presented though the following diagram:
Figure 2. Visual presentation of the flipped learning model implementation
As demonstrated by this example, the seamless integration of physical and virtual learning environments underscores the effectiveness of flexible learning approaches. This comprehensive strategy not only accommodates diverse students’ needs but also paves the way for a future of enriched inclusive education.
Implementing the seamless integration of physical and virtual learning environments, as showcased in the example, brings undeniable advantages, but it also comes with its set of challenges. In the flipped classroom approach, a common challenge is motivating students to engage with the preliminary preparation for the in-person session – covering reading materials or video lectures. To address this, assignments on platforms like Moodle can be utilized, ensuring students complete these tasks before live sessions.
In the context of hybrid sessions, several challenges emerge. Firstly, providing appropriate technical equipment, such as large screens, external microphones, and wide-angle cameras, is crucial for ensuring both online and on-site students can interact effectively. Additionally, facilitating equal engagement between online and on-site students can be achieved through group activities in virtual classroom breakout rooms and collaborative exercises using online whiteboards or shared documents. Moreover, monitoring the activity of students in both modalities becomes essential, which can be facilitated through session recordings and post-session review of breakout room activities. Finally, assigning follow-up activities asynchronously helps to maintain collaboration and practice after in-person sessions.
In conclusion, while the integration of physical and virtual learning environments offers significant benefits, educators must navigate challenges related to student engagement, technical equipment, equal participation, and ongoing collaboration to maximize the effectiveness of flexible learning approaches.
Statistics and Research Findings:
Reports and research data from the last three years indicate a growing trend towards the implementation of flexible learning approaches such as the flipped classroom model and synchronous hybrid learning. These methods have gained significant traction as institutions seek to adapt to the evolving landscape of education in a post-pandemic era.
UNESCO GLOBAL EDUCATION MONITORING REPORT (2023) shares a meta-analysis of 95 studies, which shows the flipped classroom model
- had a moderate positive effect on learning achievement and motivation compared to the traditional model
- relies on students’ ability to self-regulate their learning and having access to ICT equipment at home.
- encourages student teamwork and prepares lessons in advance through optimizing classroom hours
The 2023 UNESCO study on ‘International trends of lifelong learning in higher education’ with almost 400 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) showed that
- the synchronous hybrid model during the COVID-19 crisis accelerated pace of technological advancements
- institutions learnt several lessons despite the challenging factors and the pressing need for developing flexible learning approaches
- these changes started to reshape the dynamics of learning, including time, location, and teaching methodologies.
- alternative educational pathways play a crucial role in promoting inclusivity and fostering progression in higher education, especially for non-traditional learners.
The report also revealed that 66.4% of HEIs have established policies to support flexible learning pathways. The results also highlight the lead of private HEIs in adopting Flexible Learning Pathways at 85.2%. As the report emphasizes, these flexible learning pathways are pivotal in ensuring individuals’ continuous learning journey in higher education.
In Bulgaria, flexible learning approaches are gradually emerging within the educational system, with limited research revealing their application in higher education. For instance, a 2019 study explored the Flipped Classroom approach at the Faculty of Techniques and Technologies (FTT) in Yambol (Nedeva, D., et.al, 2019). It delved into the implementation of this method in subjects like “Programming and Use of Computers,” emphasizing the importance of filtering reliable sources and stimulating student engagement through creative assignments.
Additionally, Lazarova and Lazarov (2019) discussed the global adoption of blended learning, showcasing its effectiveness in blending traditional and technology-driven teaching methods. In 2021, another research paper proposed a pedagogical pattern-based model for e-learning, highlighting adaptability and engagement in various learning scenarios (Hadzhikolev, et al., 2021).
In a more recent 2022 study (Aleksieva, M. et al., 2023), researchers explored the current state of Flipped Classroom trends in Bulgaria. They conducted an online survey among faculty members from 27 universities in Bulgaria to understand teachers’ experiences and viewpoints on the Flipped Classroom approach. Their findings underscored that a majority of teachers endorse this method due to its potential for enhancing student engagement and shifting away from traditional lectures. However, the research also unveiled challenges such as the need for adequate training and resources, financial and technical support, and time constraints in implementing the Flipped Classroom approach.
In summary, Bulgaria is in the early stages of embracing flexible learning, and these studies offer valuable insights into the adoption of innovative teaching methods and the challenges educators face when incorporating them into higher education.
Some points for reconsideration
Continuing from the previous discussions, the concept of the flipped classroom is sometimes misinterpreted. One common misconception is that integrating pre-recorded materials reduces teachers’ workload. However, in practice, this might lead to an increase in workload, as teachers must create engaging in-class tasks that promote higher-order thinking skills. This underscores the necessity for a well-structured pedagogical framework to assist educators in crafting effective flipped learning scenarios.
Some points to remember
Transitioning to the synchronous hybrid model, it also sparks discussions and debates. Questions arise about maintaining a sense of community, achieving a balance between in-person and virtual engagement, and designing cohesive learning experiences for both sets of learners. These debates drive educators and institutions to refine and optimize the approach, adapting it to diverse learning contexts.
The transformative role of the FLeD project
In this context, the objective of the FLeD project is to offer practical guidance and resources for implementing such flexible learning models effectively and creating an inclusive and digitally enriched learning environment.
Sofia University contributes to the project’s objective by prioritizing inclusiveness at every stage of the project and taking a lead role in crafting guidelines for inclusive flipped learning scenarios. Our experience in implementing flexible learning approaches supports the project’s mission of advancing innovative teaching methods and fostering inclusive education practices.
You can stay updated on the project’s advancements by visiting its website and join the community of educators who are leading the path toward a more flexible, engaging, and inclusive education.
- Nedeva, V.; Dineva, S.; Ducheva, Z., 2019, STUDENTS IN BLENDED LEARNING BY FLIPPED CLASSROOM APPROACH. Information Technologies and Learning Tools, Vol. 72
- Lazarova, S.; Lazarov, L., 2019, FORMS OF BLENDED LEARNING – INNOVATIVE APPROACH FOR TEACHING AND EDUCATION IN UNIVERSITIES, Pedagogika-Pedagogy, Vol. 91, Issue 1, 17-32
- Hadzhikolev, E.; Hadzhikoleva, S.; Hristov, H.; Yonchev, E.; Tsvetkov, V., 2021, MODELING OF PEDAGOGICAL PATTERNS IN AN E-LEARNING SYSTEM. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, Vol. 16, Issue 24, 205-2019
- Aleksieva, M.; Kotzeva, T.; Mineva, K.; Zhecheva, V., 2023, FLIPPED CLASSROOM TRENDS IN BULGARIA: RESULTS FROM THE SURVEY. INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC CONFERENCE “THE BLACK SEA – DOORS AND BRIDGES – 2022
Assistant Professor, PhD at Faculty of Education, Sofia University