The word ‘change’ is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Living in Guangzhou, I am witnessing this first-hand. Business models are evolving and people are adopting new methods to satisfy previously expected productivity levels. Exercise classes are now via group conference call, home delivery has been revalued as an essential public service, and eLearning as an educational means has truly been embraced as a way to keep learning.

I work in a training centre in Guangzhou and given these unique times, my practice has also needed to evolve. My teaching and training methods are primarily offline so change has been the name of the game recently. So, here’s some lessons learnt and things you can incorporate in your practice should the time come for you to also flip your classroom.

The Learning Evolution

The word learning is often synonymous with an image of a classroom; an inherent expectation that we all need to be seated somewhere, listening to someone to acquire new knowledge. Learning has always been thought to happen in a (class)room in the presence of a teacher or trainer. This expectation of learning, its dynamic and geography is strong in China especially amongst my adult-learners. Whilst the classroom is no doubt where learning happens, alternatives to conventional learning models are gaining popularity, especially in the context of need- the mother of all invention. This virus-fuelled necessity has nudged many to skim the unease and skepticism that prefaces novelty, and fast-tracked the adoption of new modes of learning. In my case, my classrooms have been flipped.

Some of my favorite coffee shops in Tianhe, Guangzhou where my online training takes place.


So, what is the flipped classroom?

In a nut-shell, it’s a blended educational approach where students are introduced to new learning content (i.e. relevant lectures, videos, texts usually online) prior to any face-to-face encounters in order to optimise the time shared with a teacher/trainer in the classroom. The idea is that classroom time can be maximised to support learning activities such as analyzing, evaluating and creating, that are on the higher end of the learning spectrum according to Bloom’s taxonomy.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning

This re-prioritised use of time can encourage higher-level thinking, increase varied use of interaction patterns between students and teachers, and support multiple learning styles in the classroom- learning outcomes all educators want to see. This mode of learning in essence turns me into a coach/facilitator online offering just-in-time support whilst I make the experience more student-centered.

Challenges and Tips

A lot of my students who are working professionals log in from phones or tablets, remotely or on the go in their offices, leaving me with just their voices these days. As a facilitator visual feedback is one of my primary touchpoints to adapt delivery and cater to students’ needs. So let’s assume for a majority of my classes now I lose one major sensory input of feedback- visual cues. This has required a change in my behaviours: saying more with less to increase the efficacy of my messaging, calculating whether silence is thinking time or confusion, a vigilant focus on grading my language during instruction to reduce as much confusion during activities, and asking more concept checking questions so I’m more confident of my learner’s understanding of key points. It has also meant restraining myself in making comments that aren’t critical to avoid the awkward asynchronous turn-taking when it comes to online group classes.

However, whilst one source of sensory input is lost, it has meant the one I use most- hearing, is working on overdrive. Unlike offline formats, I am able to synchronously provide hot correction without disrupting students’ pattern of thinking. For example, if there are consistent pronunciation errors during talk-time, I discreetly type word phonetics and word stresses on their screens in real time as reminders of errors during and post activity.

The platform I currently use is Zoom. As part of this package, there is an arsenal of annotation tools, and collaboration options to enhance the student experience. Creating breakout spaces for peer to peer discussions, realtime annotating to highlight errors or draw attention to elements, giving learners more control of the visual space to express themselves and so on. Embrace all of these options, but be clear on what you want them to do if you want a seamless experience. For example, at first, my adult learners were confused why breakout rooms were necessary because it inevitably causes a seconds time delay. But explaining the why and the benefits of increased talk time, was essential for buy-in and active participation moving forward.

Lessons Learnt

Flipping classes online has been a learning experience for us all. For my learners, they’re having to learn online etiquette, get familiar with new learning technologies but also a new way of learning which goes against old habits. For me as a trainer, being able to use new learning technologies, capture my learners’ attention using a variety of techniques and harness the benefits of the flipped classrooms has been great hands-on professional development adding another skill to my toolkit. In addition, an unexpected benefit of working remotely and flipping classrooms is that I get to work anywhere, with tucked-away coffee shops and parks around town being my preference. Where there is consequence, there is also opportunity, and I’m making full use of the facilities 🙂

I’ve been online training for over a month now, getting better at it day by day, but also more bold in creating interactive sessions for my learners. It’s a new skill and way of working, 2020 has brought about much change, but also some new skills. Keep learning!

About the Author:

Edward Buultjens
Edward's passion is in adult learning, training and education with experiences both in corporate and the ESL industry. In his free time, he enjoys exploring his region, connecting with new ideas, discovering new music and staying active by running or hiking. He currently lives in Guangzhou, China and is a huge advocate for dim sum, Cantonese cuisine and learning the Chinese language.
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