A Roadmap for Scaling Flipped Learning in Higher Education

Special / June 21, 2019

 – Errol St.Clair Smith –

The lecture is dead – and it is not coming back. University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor Warren Bebbington

In June, the Flipped Learning community shared a near magical experience – something that had never happened before. For three fleeting days, a sleepy cowtown, 80 minutes outside of Denver became the Times Square of the Flipped Learning universe. Yes, Greeley, Colorado, mostly known for steer, beer and oil, was the place where several of the earliest pioneers of Flipped Learning met face-to-face for the first time in the history of flipped instruction. The meeting was by no measure a mega conference. There were no big-name sponsors, no exhibit hall and no swag. What distinguished the intimate meeting was the history of the attendees, the depth of their Flipped Learning experience,  and the distances they traveled to be together.

Eric Mazur began flipping instruction at Harvard over 25 years ago. Twenty years later, MEF University became the first entirely flipped higher education institution in the world, under the leadership of Muhammad Sahin and Caroline Fell Kurban. Robyn Brinks Lockwood introduced Flipped Learning for ESL at Stanford University. Jon Bergmann pioneered Flipped Learning in K-12 and his books have been translated into 13 languages. Jerry Overmyer started one of the earliest online Flipped Learning communities and the Flipped Learning Academy at the University of Northern Colorado. Rounding out the attendees,  a cohort of the founding faculty of the Flipped Learning Global Initiative (FLGI) parachuted in from the east and west coasts.  They were joined by flippers from Japan, Australia, Ecuador, Turkey, Colombia, Denmark, Mexico, and Korea. But why?

An Outliers Ball

Travel around the world and you’ll find that (more often than not) Flipped Learning practitioners are generally outliers. Many have left the academic in-crowd and accepted isolation as the price of admission to the Flipped Learning educators club. So for many, the Greely event was an outlier’s meet-up. Most came to share ideas and flipped teaching strategies, discover innovations in higher ed Flipped Learning and geek out with like-minded flippers.

About two-thirds came to take the Flipped Learning Higher Ed Certification and have a virgin experience with flipped professional development.

But Mazur, Kurban and Sahin had two other reasons for coming to Greeley. Mazur came to present the International Flipped Learning Award to the Provost of the University of Northern Colorado for their pioneering work. While Kurban and Sahin came to connect with Mazur to launch their new book, The New University Model: Scaling Flipped Learning in Higher Education.

Flipping Versus Scaling

The New University Model: Scaling Flipped Learning in Higher Education is noteworthy on two counts. The book shares insights gleaned from starting, managing and scaling flipped instruction at the first fully flipped university. In 2018, MEF graduated students who had completed their degrees via flipped instruction in:

By contrast, in 2015 the Vice-Chancellor of the University of  Adelaide made big news in Australia when he announced the university’s plans to “phase out” lecture. Since then, Flipped Learning at the University of Adelaide has evolved and spread to universities across Australia and the world. A rapidly growing array of universities have now embraced the model, but only MEF has experienced the peculiar challenges involved in scaling Flipped Learning across an entire university. Perhaps this is why attendees were eager to use this opportunity to pick the minds of the book’s authors for slices of insight.

Starting Up and Scaling Up

During the closing keynote, Sahin explained why and how MEF University took the leap to fully flipped instruction. He described the headwinds they faced, the hurdles they had to leap and the missteps they made.  But unlike flipping a university course or migrating a department to Flipped Learning, starting from scratch allowed MEF to select a “dream team.”  Indeed, Sahin shared his surprise that the decision to flip attracted a different kind of educator – innovators who were specifically interested in flipped learning from day one. But as Fell Kurban noted,  MEF soon discovered that “interested in Flipped Learning” means different things to different people.

Though Flipped Learning is now decades old, and practiced around the world, there are still lingering myths, misconceptions, and misunderstandings about Flipped Learning. Mazur is clearly troubled by this,  “I think a lot of people have a rather naive conception of Flipped Learning. They think Flipped Learning is simply watching videos before class. That’s it. Boom. Done. But it is a much deeper process.”

Sahin and Kurban quickly found that lack of a clear definition, a common language, and shared best practices made scaling Flipped Learning as difficult as scaling Kilimanjaro. How can we efficiently convert the research on Flipped Learning to practice when we are unclear whether any series of research findings even agree on the basics of what Flipped Learning is?

The Elephant in the Room

MEF was among the first to recognize and acknowledge the problem hiding a plain site. In many ways, the global Flipped Learning community of researchers and practitioners is like the metaphor of the blind men touching an elephant. Each is engaging a different part of the elephant and acting as if we understand the whole.  The book explains how practicing Flipped Learning in the isolation of a classroom, a department, a university or a country allows the confusion to persist and slows the ability to effectively scale Flipped Learning. Indeed, any attempt at scaling Flipped Learning quickly reveals the need for a standard framework.


Global Best Practices

in 2018, MEF University joined a Delphi Research project to see if it was possible to identify a set of universal best practices for Flipped Learning. Led by the Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences (AALAS), it was known as the Global Standards Project. 

The year-long collaboration between 100 experienced Flipped Learning practitioners in 49 countries identified, aggregated and organized a set of global best practices of effective Flipped Learning. After multiple rounds of peer review, only the best practices that received unanimous thumbs up from all 100 delegates were included in the final results. After a period of public commentary, a set of standards were adopted and published.

The New University Model is the first book written that combines the AALAS Global Standards with the practical experience of scaling Flipped Learning in higher education. Throughout the book the authors use icons from FLGI’s Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning table to identify the AALAS best practices they cover in each chapter.  You can see an interactive version of the table here.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

To be clear, not all higher ed Flipped Learning practitioners are ready to embrace global standards. Two of the co-chairs of the standards project openly share their ambivalence. Mazur makes it clear that standards are very important and useful but acknowledges that being too prescriptive creates pushback especially among “fiercely independent” university professors.

Robyn Brinks Lockwood echoed Mazur during the UNC closing keynote presentation. Lockwood transparently shared that she doesn’t like to follow rules. “I like to do my own thing in my classroom,” said Lockwood. But Robyn acknowledged the panic she felt when she first decided to Flip. “I started down this road when there was no road… I was like an explorer in the jungle cutting the trees with a giant machete trying to find my way.” So what was the turning point? Robyn says it was a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and a bunch of interviews with professors and students at Stanford who were already in flipped classes.

Lockwood eventually concluded that subject matter experts and skilled teachers are not synonymous. Through that lens, she began to see the global standards as a useful tool and a guide to more effective teaching. Lockwood realized that she could either use the standards or drink more wine. She opted to do both. With the standards, “everything is all mapped out for us… it takes all of the guesswork out of Flipped Learning.” Perhaps the subtitle of her talk said it best, “Why I was happy to stop hating and start loving the standards.”

A Roadmap

Today all MEF professors, associate professors, and instructors have been introduced to the AALAS global standards as a roadmap to effective Flipped Learning. The term roadmap is a fitting description because unlike the term “global standards,” a roadmap is not viewed as a set of commandments. Instead, a roadmap is used to find the best route to a destination while still recognizing that there are many ways to get there.

Seventy percent of MEF’s instructors now share a common understanding, common language and a common set of best practices. The New University Model: Scaling Flipped Learning in Higher Education retraces that path MEF took to get its staff on the same page and flip an entire university. Eric Mazur wrote the foreword and calls the book, “a must-read for any innovative educator or higher ed administrator.”

So for those in higher ed who believe that the lecture hall model is dying and won’t be coming back. Sahin, Kurban and Mazur provide a peer-reviewed roadmap to starting, managing and scaling Flipped Learning in higher education without a machete or copious glasses of vino.


Event Photos




Errol St.Clair Smith
I am the Director of Global Development at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. I joined the education community in 2005, working closely with national education organizations on community outreach and professional development. Over the last decade, I’ve led the development of community platforms for The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE); the Association of Curriculum Developers (ASCD); the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO). I'm honored to have received four Emmy nominations and an Emmy Award for public affairs programming. In 2017 I co-authored Flipped Learning 3.0 with Jon Bergmann. The book was updated based on the AALAS Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning in 2019.

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