Moving mindsets from “What is” to “What is POSSIBLE”

//Moving mindsets from “What is” to “What is POSSIBLE”

“Traditional teaching” is TEACHER and CONTENT focused. This is fine – if you want to win a local pub trivia night, but it is not LEARNING. Learning requires a level of understanding of what the content is about and why it is important. Even more important is knowing when it is relevant to apply and why it is more optimal than a range of other possible options. Flip teaching is (apparently) a “new” way to teach that incorporates technology and prior learning before applying the content in tutorials. The basic process is record a video or activity that students view or act on BEFORE the class, so when they come together in the classroom, they engage in APPLYING the content and ideas to exercises. This is of course better (in theory) than just learning content (which is rapidly forgotten). Some examples of the “flipped classroom” also have technology where the students are doing exercises in computers in class and the teacher can monitor their activity and put their attention towards those who need it most.

It is not about the content, its about the interactions

The biggest limitation is traditional teaching is students may not fully understand the impacts and consequences of the knowledge they have “gained”. Vygotsky (1978) argued a long time ago that language and signs helped learners to develop a richer and higher level of understanding, thereby increasing the chances of converting content and thought into meaningful action. He described this transformation as a move from a life where action dominates meaning (or “rebus”) to one where meaning dominates action. For this evolution to happen, learners benefit from spaces where they can interact and reflect (alone or with others) to develop their thinking and interpretation of the content. Interactions across perspectives enhance the richness of these exchanges and this is what the Facilitator” should be doing in class rather than teaching content.
The idea of learning by doing and interacting with others is far from new. May writers have discussed action learning, action research, andragogy (or adult teaching method) and the limitations of these versus traditional content based teaching. One of the key limitations is that andragogy assumes the learner is a willing participant and will engage with others. Words Bloom used to describe the outcomes of traditional learning included: defines, describes, identifies, knows, labels, lists…
Whereas words Bloom used to describe andragogy are much richer and action orientated such as (and require a significantly higher level of understanding): appraises, compares, concludes, contrasts, criticizes, critiques, defends, discriminates, evaluates, explains, interprets, justifies, relates…

However, if students have not read the material before the interaction, the value of the dialogue is significantly reduced. Larry Michaelsen creatively got around this problem by setting short tests at the beginning of each class that count to final grades. If they did not read, they (and their teams) were penalised in the results (simple and brilliant). The truth is if they DO read before, they learn more and education is an investment in your future. If you want to maximise return on your time and efforts investment, you read before, interact during class and reflect afterwards. The truth is, your capabilities (what you are really buying in education) are as much influenced by what you do before and after classes than in them. Each enhances the quality of the other.
A quality education is one in which we (participants) understand what is already known from the past and apply this to inform decisions and actions (the same or differently) in the present, in order to create a better future. After all, one of the key the purposes of education (other than just being fun to participate in) is to guide us to a more sustainable and enjoyable future. Flipping the classroom is just one way to achieve this higher level understanding, others include conversation, games, metaphor, role plays, challenges, debates etc. The key in the interactive dialogue and being outcomes focused (around what you are trying to achieve).
I advise my research students that I want them to develop multiple perspectives:

  • Understand the problem (but this is just the beginning)…
  • Convert that problem into an opportunity (if it is an issue, then resolving it adds value right?)
  • Then advise, specifically, how to act for the future (in a meaningful way that creates sustainable way.

That is, inspire our thinking by shifting our focus from “What is” to “What is POSSIBLE!”


Bloom, BS, Hastings, JT & Madaus, GF 1971, Handbook on Formative and Summative Evaluation of Student Learning, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, NY, USA.
Michaelsen 2012
Vygotsky, LS 1978 Mind and society: The development of higher psychological
processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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