Why you should be flipping out in 2014

BY Jeff Cobb

Flipped Classroom

In our recent Association Learning + Technology report (which is available for free download) we reported that association adoption of trendy new learning approaches like massive open online courses (MOOCs), gamification, digital badges, and flipped learning has been relatively limited so far. Fewer than 10 percent of respondents indicated they have experimented with these formats.

Given the relatively slow pace at which organizations have embraced new learning technologies historically, I’m not expecting to see a stampede to any of them in 2014. Nonetheless, there are two of them that I think make particular sense for associations and that forward-thinking organizations should embrace sooner rather than later.

One of these, digital badges, I will write about it a later post.

The other, flipped learning, is the subject of this post.

Defining Flipped Learning

In case you are a little fuzzy on the concept, “flipped” learning, here’s the high level definition we offer in the Association Learning + Technology report:

Flipped learning involves offering preparatory or foundational content (often as Web- based video) outside of the classroom and then using class time for more active learning. It “flips” the traditional approach of using class time for lecture and non-class time for hands-on work related to the lecture. Khan Academy (https:// www.khanacademy.org), more than any other organization, has put flipped learning on the map.

“Class time” might mean a seminar, a conference session, or even a Webinar, and “hands-on” might mean problem-solving activities, case studies, or facilitated discussion, among other possibilities.

Flipped content can come from a variety of sources, including video captured from conferences, clips from Webinar recordings, brief audio or video interviews with subject matter experts, screen recordings, and the variety of publications that most organizations already produce.

The Flipping Trifecta

Flipping has potential across the educational spectrum – from K-12 on up – but I see it as particularly powerful for organizations in the business of adult continuing education and professional development because it can address – often simultaneously – three critical areas:


Chunks of educational content are a natural for effective content marketing – a practice that is essential for organizations that need to attract prospective learners, demonstrate value, and maintain an edge in increasingly competitive markets.

The most successful internet marketers have known for years that giving away foundational content is one of the most effective ways to lead customers toward higher value content for which they charge a premium. (This one idea, for example, lies at the heart of “Product Launch Formula,” a perennially popular and lucrative training product from Internet Marketing guru Jeff Walker.)

Another way to put it is that “flipped” content can help you fill the upper end of your Accelerant Curve more strategically and create the pull towards the lower part of the curve.

Business Model

But flipped content does not have to be free content. It can be bundled in with an existing product like an seminar or conference to help elevate the value – and price – of that offering. In this case, you provide access to it only once a learner has registered and paid.

Arguably, flipped content can also be a product in and of itself. I have written before, for example, about selling short video content in a subscription model.  This can easily be content that relates to existing seminars, conference sessions, or Webinars, but that is positioned and sold as a freestanding product. (If you are interested, I write a good bit more about “flipped” as a business model in Leading the Learning Revolution.)


Last, and certainly not least, it has the potential to be incredibly effective as a learning model. Indeed, the learning value that flipping can create is what makes it so effective as both a marketing tool and potential business model.

Among other benefits, flipping can help to even out differences in prior knowledge among seminar and session attendees, making it possible to raise the instructional bar and deliver more educational value. (Variable prior knowledge of attendees is a perennial issue in conference session learning, in particular.)

Flipping can also help support distributed, spaced learning by allowing for exposure to and absorption of content over time rather than in the single shot of the typical learning event. Learning in this way greatly increases recall – meaning the long-term impact of your educational offerings is greater. (I’d go so far as to argue flipping may be the salvation of traditional event-based learning, which has always been quite limited in what it can realistically achieve.)

I’ll dig deeper on other learning benefits and the related research in future posts, but those two alone are enough to make flipped learning merit serious consideration.

All Hands on Deck

All of the benefits above add up to creating a great deal of value for members and customers while also generating significant returns for the organization. In other words, this is far from just “an education thing.”

Even more so than was the case with the first and second waves of “e-learning,” CEOs and EDs need to wake up and step up to the potential. The 3Ms (Marketing, Membership, and Meetings) need to be fully on board, and Technology needs to support getting the right infrastructure in place tout suite. In general, silos need to come down to fully realize the opportunity presented by flipped learning.

So what are your thoughts about flipped learning and/or your plans for the coming year? Please comment and share.


P.S. – Update 03/05/14 – Heres a useful article on flipped learning from ASTD that I just came across: Flipped Learning: Maximizing Face Time.

Leading the Learning Revolution CoverLeading the Learning Revolution has been described as “an MBA in a book” for anyone in the business of lifelong learning, continuing education, and professional development. Grab your copy today and take your education business to new levels!

  1. This is a helpful article. I’ve seen some associations try to get their course participants to (for example) complete pre-course reading assignments, with varying degrees of formality and success. To me this flipping approach seems like a better way to create a “cohort” of learners before the event, with justification and support for getting pre-course work done.

  2. Jeff Cobb says:

    Dave – Thanks for commenting. I think it can help a great deal in creating more of a sense of “cohort” coming into a course or other learning experience. I’m actually in the midst of some professional development right now in which listening to recorded sessions prior to engaging live with others involved in the experience has been tremendously valuable. It’s provided some baseline knowledge and a good point of reference for driving our discussion, making it possible to go deep much more quickly and effectively. – Jeff

  3. Scott Oser says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I think this has some real value. I wonder if the reason that associations are not picking it up quickly is that it is VERY different than what has been done in the past. For the large conferences and annual meetings the majority of associations that I am familiar with put out a call for presentations and then accept what they think will work best for the audience. Presenters rarely get paid for their participation. Associations have come to be open to different formats (peer to peer as well as podium presentations) but the fundamental model of not paying presenters has not changed. I wonder if presenters would be willing to do the extra work to create the pre-event content without some form of compensation or if that will be a hurdle. I also wonder if associations would be willing to compensate presenters if presenters were willing to take the time to prepare the pre-event content.

    I realize that the model I am describing is primarily for the larger conferences and annual meetings but the same challenge may exist for smaller educational events as well. What do you think?


  4. Dave Core says:

    Jeff, this makes a lot of sense. I’d really be interested to know how to encouarge volunteer facilitators and speakers to consider this as an option for session participants and then to get people to do the work in advance. It would be much more effective, to be sure. (My comment is related specifically to sessions at a conference.)

  5. Jeff Cobb says:

    Scott and Dave – Many thanks for reading and commenting. I thought I’d post one reply on the volunteer/SME question, since each of you raise it, and then a separate reply on learner participation.

    The SME/presenter issue is a key one, particularly in the case of traditional events where, as each of you notes, speakers typically aren’t paid. I think there are a couple of options to consider.

    The first is that many SME/presenters already have material available that could be used as pre-content. Videos, articles, blog posts, etc. Additionally, potential session attendees may have content available – e.g., , example of what they have actually done with respect to topic “X.” Or, there may simply be content available in the public domain. With flipping itself, for example, having attendees spend some time on Khan Academy (with some direction, and perhaps a couple of good articles and/or videos on flipping/Khan Academy) could be a good way to set the stage for a productive session. Of course, organizations would need to be prepared, in many instances, to take some responsibility for curating such content and would need to coordinate appropriately with the presenter.

    The second option – in response to Scott, in particular – goes more to the heart of the event industry/business model. I think if organizations expect to deliver effective learning (and by doing so, remain competitive and thrive in an increasingly competitive lifelong learning market), we are going to have to see a move towards more willingness to compensate presenters. As I have noted in various other places, SMEs/presenters simply have more options than ever before to reach audiences. Organizations are going to need to forge a new relationship with them. On the one hand, they need to demand more of them and support them better (which flipping would certainly demand), on the other hand, they need to recognize that SMEs/presenters do have many more options now and be prepared to compensate them appropriately for time and effort. (For my own part, I can say that the promise of an “audience of potential buyers” is not longer sufficient – if it ever was. SMEs are increasingly able to get in front of audiences of potential buyers on their own thanks, in large part, to what technology has enabled.) By extension, this also will likely mean fewer, more focused sessions at most events – which, personally, I think would be a good thing.

    For some additional thoughts on the shift in SME/presenter relationships see:


    I welcome your reactions to any of the above!


  6. Jeff Cobb says:

    Dave –

    With respect to getting people to do the work in advance, the key issue is one of motivation, or more specifically, understanding learners’ intrinsic motivations and delivering content/experiences that align well with those motivations. This issue, of course, is not confined to flipping. Whether learners participate in any sort of online learning experience, whether they are actually attentive and engaged in the average conference session, and whether they actually change at all as a result of the learning experience are all grounded in motivation. If the motivation is primarily extrinsic – e.g., the chance to earn CE credit – then the chance of getting much participation in flipped content is likely very low.

    So, the potential for participation in flipped content is linked tightly to the perceived value of the session content/experience and how tightly it aligns with what participants are intrinsically motivated to learn.

    Additionally, giving learners good opportunities to interact with and apply flipped content can significantly increase the chances that it will be used and – perhaps more importantly – actually contribute value to the live session. This might happen through – just to name a few options – use of online discussions, by providing for some self-testing/self-assessment to accompany the flipped content, or even by assigning “homework” to be turned in/discussed at the session (though with the caveat that any assignments should, ideally, be of a sort that learners can do and get value from within the normal context of their work/life).

    Of course, all of this goes back to understanding your audience well, selecting good session topics and presenters, and working effectively with presenters to design/support the overall learning experience (see my previous reply re: presenters/SMEs).

    I’ll stop there, rather than write a book for a blog comment, but I plan to write a good bit more about this in the near future. I welcome you reactions or the reactions/inputs of any other readers here.


  7. Associations may find more success in flipping content on a smaller scale rather than taking on the reformatting of conferences. Successfully flipping content requires a motivated learner and content which involves all of the senses. Video is awesome, screenshots of how to review data or use software is great too. Interviews or mini-lectures can also be powerful. I think the place to start with flipping is reusing recorded conference sessions or webinars. Good candidates would be sessions which provided background information and only required the user to remember or understand. The flipped content or new session would require a pre-viewing of the edited session. Referring again to Bloom’s taxonomy, the new session would then be dedicated to applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating with the new content. Very exciting opportunity for adult education!

    1. Jeff Cobb says:

      Thanks for the great additions to the conversation, Julie. I agree that starting at a smaller scale is likely to be the best path in most instances. – Jeff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.