Flipped Learning: What’s Its Place in the Association Meetings Space?

Moving your meeting's education from an expert-led lecture format to an activity- and discussion-based one may lead to more active and engaged attendees.

A few weeks back I shared four of the best meetings-related ideas I heard at ASAE’s 2015 Great Ideas Conference. One of them was the Bridge the Gap series that the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) implemented at its national conference.

It flips the traditional approach of using class time for lecture and nonclass time for hands-on work related to the lecture.

How it works is that earlier in the day attendees go to a Bridge the Gap Lecture on a certain technique. Later that afternoon, attendees head to a Bridge the Gap Practical where they get hands-on training for teaching that technique.

In a comment on that post, Jeffrey Cufaude mentioned that this format “mirrors somewhat the classroom education’s lecture and lab formats” and suggested that not only could association meetings use more lab-style sessions but that they should also consider a flipped model.

It’s funny he mentioned that. The meeting planner from NSCA who shared details of the Bridge the Gap series with me and my tablemates at Great Ideas also mentioned that her daughter was a former student of Jonathan Bergmann, a Colorado chemistry teacher, who—along with fellow educator Aaron Sams—is referred to as the pioneer of Flipped Learning.

All of this talk got me thinking about where the Flipped Learning concept could fit into education at association meetings and conferences.

What Is Flipped Learning?

The Flipped Learning Network, a nonprofit founded in 2012 by Bergmann and Sams, defines Flipped Learning as “a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”

In simpler terms, in a Flipped Learning environment, teachers make lessons available to students to access whenever and wherever is convenient outside of the classroom—whether through screencasts, videos, or curated articles—and then use class time for more active learning like facilitated discussion or problem-solving activities. It flips the traditional approach of using class time for lecture and nonclass time for hands-on work related to the lecture.

Its Potential Role in Association Meetings

While Flipped Learning was initially introduced in the K-12 learning environment, a similar approach can be done at meetings and conferences by giving attendees work ahead of the event, such as watching a lecture, reading curated articles and other materials, or reviewing a slide deck. Then, once they’re onsite, attendees can dive into discussion and activities with speakers as well as their peers.

In a May 2014 blog post on the model, Donna Kastner put it best when she wrote, “What’s particularly intriguing about Flipped Learning is that it recognizes a powerful conference maxim: The smartest people aren’t always on stage. They’re often in the room.”

But no matter the benefits this model may offer, associations are far from embracing it. In fact, Tagoras’ 2014 Association Learning + Technology report, which surveyed 200 trade and professional associations, reported that only 5.3 percent are offering flipped classes.

There’s likely a number of reasons associations have been slow to introduce Flipped Learning to their meetings. One is that they simply may be unaware of the technique. Another is that they may be afraid to ask attendees to commit time and energy to advance work. Sure, this could be tough for some groups to overcome—and there will always be students who refuse to do homework—but perhaps there’s an incentive to offer to get attendees to commit. Plus, you can make the pre-work short and simple, so attendees don’t feel like they’re spending two days preparing for a conference that only lasts a day or two.

Where I think a Flipped Learning model could work best is in a small meeting environment where attendees are coming either to achieve a certification or to receive very specific or advanced knowledge. (Contrast this with a large annual meeting where each timeframe has several sessions to choose from, and it may be harder to get attendees to pick a session in advance, let alone do some pre-work.)

A few years back I attended a leadership conference that required some pre-reading and survey taking. I’ll admit I was a reluctant learner at first and thought, “They want me to do homework? Blah.” But it took less than an hour, and once I was onsite, I thought having that knowledge gave me a better perspective and made for a much more well-rounded and worthwhile conference experience.

If you’re looking for a recent conference that put this model into action, check out the Colorado Blended and Online Learning Flipped Conference, which took place in February. Attendees were required to do some pre-reading so there was more time for open discussion and hands-on activities at the event. (The detailed agenda has links to pre-work for the sessions to give you a sense of what was involved.)

Has your organization introduced the Flipped Learning model into any of its meeting or conference education? If so, how did it go? Let me know in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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