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The "Flipped Classroom" and its implications for Maritime Training

Posted to Maritime Training Issues with Murray Goldberg (by on November 11, 2013

Every once in a while a new idea on how to improve learning makes the rounds in education circles. This article discusses a significant new training trend called the "Flipped Classroom" and its implications for the maritime industry.

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Every once in a while a new idea on how to improve learning makes the rounds in education circles. Although these ideas are not typically born of the maritime industry, they almost all have implications within it, and trainers should be on top of them. For example, last year I wrote an article about MOOCs (massive open online courses), what they are, and how they might be applied to the maritime industry. MOOCs are a trend which continue to expand, but are not without controversy.

The subject of this article is another idea which is beginning to make a real difference in higher education. I first learned about it last year when, as a trustee of Harvey Mudd College in California, I attended a board retreat where we heard a presentation of the college's leadership in this area. And now my daughter, a student at the University of Toronto, is experiencing this new mode of learning in one of her classes. But it is not restricted to higher education. In fact, one of our (Marine Learning System) customers is deploying a form of it for the trainees that come through their maritime simulation facility in Europe. So - what (finally) is this trend? It is the "flipped classroom".

What is the Flipped Classroom?

"Flipped classroom" is a name for a training method which, to me, makes complete sense. In fact, you may already be using it to one degree or another without realizing you are doing so. Despite the images that are conjured up by the name, flipped classrooms look exactly the same as regular classrooms. That is, at least, until the learning starts.

The Traditional Training Experience

To understand the flipped classroom, first consider the traditional classroom experience. There, as we all know, a trainer typically stands at the front of the room and lectures. This is largely a one-way experience where information is (hopefully) transferred from trainer to trainee. Aside from pausing now and then for questions, most classroom experiences are largely this - a lecturer speaking to an audience.

Another part of this traditional learning experience is what happens outside the classroom. Here, the trainer may assign "homework" or other practice for the trainees to do on their own time. In the maritime industry these assignment may look like pretty standard paper-based assignments, or could be more hands-on work such as exercises with bridge equipment, simulators, firefighting equipment, etc. Some of this "outside class" work may be supervised by a trainer, while other work may be done independently by the trainee.

What is Wrong with Traditional Training?

The flipped classroom advocates say that there are two things wrong with this model of teaching. The first problem is that having a trainer deliver a (largely) one-way lecture is an enormous waste of time. Trainer time is a valuable, expensive and limited resource which could be better spent than by delivering the same lecture over and over again to new groups of trainees. I know this first hand. As much as I have always loved to lecture, the courses I taught as a university lecturer generally each consisted of 33 or so hours of lecture which I gave, mostly unaltered, year after year.

The second, related, problem with traditional training is that the outside-class assignments or practice is mostly (or at least often) done unsupervised. Unless there is additional trainer time available outside of lectures, trainees are on their own to perform the practice or assignment - an experience which could really benefit from the wise counsel of an experienced trainer.

How Does the Flipped Classroom Change the Model?

Given the problems above, the solution becomes pretty clear. In the flipped classroom, the in-class experience and the outside-class experiences are "flipped". That is, instead of lectures happening during class time, trainees are asked to watch videos of lectures (or possibly read some learning module, or both) outside the classroom - before class. Then, when the trainees arrive in the class, instead of being lectured to, trainees are able to ask questions, participate in discussions, and do problems and practice in the presence of (and with the guidance of) the trainer. Simple, but very different.

The point of this is that the one-way lecture experience does not require a "live" lecturer. Video lectures or other training content can be used as a substitute for the lecture experience with very little negative effect. Once that is done, the trainer is freed from lectures and his or her time can now be used doing much "higher value"  and more educationally effective interactive work with the trainees (the "in-class" part of the flipped classroom). They can work on problem sets, engage in practice, or hold discussions - all of which greatly benefit from the presence and guidance of the trainer. In some sense, this is what an experienced trainer is meant to do - observe trainees, give practical guidance, correct performance, and help trainees gain skills. The knowledge transfer part (the lecture) has many effective and viable alternatives. Why not use them and put the trainer to work doing real training? This is the flipped classroom.

Benefits and Drawbacks

The primary benefit of the flipped classroom is pretty clear - it creates the opportunity for more interactive, directed training with the trainer. It allows the trainer to observe the trainees much more closely and much earlier in the training experience. This makes early course corrections possible and allows the trainee to benefit from the wisdom of the trainer much more effectively.

The main, and possibly the only drawback is that videotaped lectures remove the ability for trainees to ask questions during lecture or for the lecturer to adapt the lecture to the needs of the trainees currently present. These are both real issues, but most argue that there are things we can do to mitigate the effect of those issues, and that the remaining effect is small compared to the benefit gained by flipping the classroom.

First - with modern learning technologies, trainees can, in fact, ask questions during lecture. The questions may be asked online in a training forum, in a chat with the trainer, or in a community of learners who are taking the same course. The questions can also be asked during the beginning of the next classroom experience - where there is now much more time available for discussion.

Second - although it is true that the video lectures will not adapt to the trainee, there are advantages here too. First, trainees can pause or skip over parts according to their own preexisting knowledge and learning abilities. If they need more information they can pause and go seek it from other sources. If they already know the material, they can skip to the next section rather than waste time. In this way, video or other media adapts to the personal needs of the learner much better than lectures can.

And finally, another advantage is that a video-based lecture will often have the benefit of a lot of planning and careful execution. There is even the opportunity for "star" trainers with a great deal of skill and experience to be the ones lecturing in the video. It need not be the case that the trainer in class is the same one who is on the video. This allows a truly great lecturer and/or a uniquely qualified trainer to have a much broader effect than they could in person. Thus there is an argument that these lectures will be "better" than a typical classroom lecture. At the very least, they will be far more standardized.

A Rose by Any Other Name

Perhaps the flipped classroom model sounds a bit familiar to you? If you are a regular reader of this series of maritime training articles, you will have read quite a bit about one of my favorite topics - blended learning. Recall that blended learning is the use of more than one "media" in a training experience - typically the combination of a classroom experience and an eLearning experience. The "flipped classroom" is, of course, one intelligent form of blended learning, and it speaks to the power of blended learning in general.

The main premise of blended learning is that we can provide a wider variety of learning experiences to our trainees which will appeal to a broader range of learning styles and therefore provide a more comprehensive learning experience. It also recognizes that different modes of learning each have their own strengths and limitations and therefore by combining them, we have a broader range of strengths to draw upon, and the limitations of one are nullified by the strengths of the other. The end result is that study after study confirms better training outcomes with blended learning than with traditional learning.

The flipped classroom has all the advantages listed above, plus it frees up the lecturer to spend time on the really effective, high-value interactive experiences with trainees. So I fully expect that when the research studying the effect of the flipped classroom is mature and presents a definitive answer as to its effectiveness, we will find that it is a great improvement over the traditional classroom.

Implications for the Maritime Industry

This is already happening in some form in the maritime industry - and there are tools available now which would easily allow you to "flip" your existing traditional maritime training classroom. Let's first look at an example of what is happening now, and then discuss how you can pretty easily create an experience of this type in your maritime training.

An Example

We, at Marine Learning Systems, have a customer which is just about to begin using our LMS. I won't mention the name of the company because I'd have to get their permission first, and as I am on a plane now, that would be problematic. Suffice it to say that they are a very large simulation training center in western Europe proving maritime training such as bridge resource management, NACOS/ECDIS, engine room simulation training, etc. They are very busy, highly respected, and growing. They are also great to work with and take training techniques and training outcomes very seriously.

At present, when trainees arrive, although they have done some pre-reading, there is a fair bit of time spent in lectures. This is required in order to fill any "holes" in the knowledge of some of the trainees, and to provide the new knowledge required to prepare them for their time in the simulator. Both of these could be accomplished effectively prior to arriving at the simulation facility. Thus the facility plans to remove some of these "knowledge transfer" activities from lectures, and put more of them on-line to be done by trainees before arriving at the facility. This will allow more discussion, interaction and (most importantly) more simulator time "in class".

In order to make this happen, the facility will make much of the required knowledge available on line through various media (video lectures, written content, etc), and have the trainees use that material before they come to the facility. In addition, the facility plans to administer an examination to ensure that the trainees did the work and learned the material to the required degree. This will all be done through our LMS (learning management system) - MarineLMS. Once this is done, this knowledge transfer can be largely removed from the lectures that currently happen on-site.

The first benefit will be that the trainees all arrive with a much more uniform, and much higher, level of knowledge. The second benefit is that the need for lectures can be greatly reduced and ultimately the trainer's time will be freed up for more questions, discussions, group work and simulator time. It is an experiment which is sure to succeed.


I would argue that the flipped classroom is actually highly suited to the maritime industry and helps to solve problems which exist in maritime training. I will continue this discussing in the next article by talking about how to flip your training, and why this is particularly suited to the maritime industry.

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Until then, thanks for reading and sail safely!

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About The Author:

Murray Goldberg is the founder and President of Marine Learning Systems (www.marinels.com), the creator of MarineLMS - the learning management system designed specifically for maritime industry training. Murray began research in eLearning in 1995 as a faculty member of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. He went on to create WebCT, the world’s first commercially successful LMS for higher education; serving 14 million students in 80 countries. Murray has won over a dozen University, National and International awards for teaching excellence and his pioneering contributions to the field of educational technology. Now, in Marine Learning Systems, Murray is hoping to play a part in advancing the art and science of learning in the maritime industry.

Maritime Training: The full library of maritime training articles can be found here.

Blog Notifications: For the latest maritime training articles, visit our company blog here. You can receive notifications of new articles on our company blog by following the blog.

Maritime Mentoring: International Maritime Mentoring Community - Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor