Create More Engaging Cohort-based Courses with the Flipped Classroom Model
Cohort-based courses are on the decline if the tastemakers are to be believed. And it makes sense. Now that people aren’t stuck at home, they probably don’t want to spend time interacting online when they can interact IRL. But that doesn’t mean that CBCs have no utility.
In fact, I think that there’s a great way we can make CBCs even better, by employing a tactic that has been explored in the K12 and higher education settings: the flipped classroom.
In the episode we’ll:
- Check out the flipped classroom model, a way to get students more involved and boost their learning.
- See how engaging teaching methods move past old school methods and foster better student participation.
- Learn some of the pitfalls of the flipped classroom in a practice.
- Measure the effect of customizing course material to suit students, a way to make education more personalized.
- See how the topic matters when considering the use of the flipped classroom model.
- Address how we can incorporate the flipped classroom model in cohort-based courses.
Joe Casabona: Something I was always curious about when I was teaching in a college classroom was the idea of the flipped classroom. But I didn’t teach long enough or the right kind of course to really implement it. Still, I think in today’s changing landscape for cohort-based courses, which sales have reportedly been on the decline for, I believe that the flipped classroom model is the perfect answer to how to structure cohort-based courses moving forward. And that’s what we are going to talk about today.
I’m really excited for this solo episode, where we are going to talk about how to not bore your students in the classroom or in a cohort, how to leverage the flipped classroom, but how a lot of teachers were doing it wrong, and then how you can apply the flipped classroom to the cohort-based course model.
Now, in the pro show, I’m going to be talking about the LinkedIn Learning Course, I just finished recording, generative AI for podcasters, as well as how I’m using Notion, my ongoing battle with the very popular note-taking or maybe database app. So we’ll see how that goes.
For all of the show notes and to sign up for the pro show if you want ad-free extended episodes of this podcast, you can head over to howibuilt.it/332. That’s howibuilt.it/332. Now if you’re listening in Apple Podcasts, I am so very few reviews away from 100. If you enjoy this show, or you hate it, I guess, leave me a rating and review. I will deeply appreciate it. I’ll even read it on the show.
Okay, so let’s get into the intro and then the episode.
Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast that helps busy solopreneurs and creators grow their business without spending too much time on it. I’m your host Joe Casabona, and each week, I bring you interviews and case studies on how to build a better business through smarter processes, time management, and effective content creation. It’s like getting free coaching calls from successful solopreneurs.
By the end of each episode, you’ll have one to three takeaways you can implement today to stop spending time in your business and more time on your business or with your friends, your family, reading, or however you choose to spend your free time.
Joe Casabona: So longtime listeners of the show will know that I used to teach in the classroom at the University of Scranton. It was one of my favorite jobs. I loved connecting with the students. I was teaching a few courses by the end of my tenure there: computer science, programming 101, web development.
But one of my favorite courses to teach was computer literacy. Every student, every freshman had to take this course. And to be honest, it was a little arcane. It was basically how to use a computer. It was originally invented, I’m going to say, by the computer science department in the early to mid-90s. So it was a little bit outdated.
Now, other professors in the department treated this class like it was on autopilot. And actually one said to me as they were giving me an even bigger course load, “Well, komplet I mean, that’s just on autopilot for you. I mean, it wasn’t. It’s a computer class. Some of the things that we taught in 1998 were not applicable in 2016. So I was constantly evolving that class.
And while it was mostly informational, we weren’t really working through problems, I loved the idea of a more interactive class. So we would do group discussions where we talked about things like prosthetics and implants, like technical implants, self-driving cars. One of the things I would have my students do is a report on some emerging technology or some sort of interesting bit of technology that was coming out.
One covered the LUKE Arm, which is named after Star Wars, which I thought was really cool. One covered designer babies, which we mentioned a little bit on Episode 330 with Cody Sheehy. So that was the first time I had heard about this idea that you could design your baby. And one student talked about the flipped classroom.
So let’s define what a flipped classroom is and why I liked the idea. So, according to Google Bard—I asked Google Bard. I mean, I already knew but I wanted a formal definition—a flipped classroom is a type of blended learning where students learn new content at home and practice working through it at school. In a flipped classroom, students watch lectures or complete readings at home and then spend class time working on problem-solving and other active learning experiences. The goal of the flipped classroom is to engage students and help them learn more.
I loved this idea because talking at somebody for 50 minutes is not going to help them right. There’s some pyramid—I wish I had it in front of me now—where it’s like hearing something is like 5% retention and seeing something is 10% retention, and then doing something… maybe it’s like 10, and 25%, or something like that. Doing something is like 70% retention, and teaching something is 90% retention. So those numbers are probably loose but you get the idea.
The more you engage with the thing you’re learning, the more likely it is to stick. This is why I designed all of my courses to be learned by doing courses. So I loved this idea because this was very learned by doing. But my students who had experienced the flipped classroom either in high school or in other college courses hated it because the teachers were abusing this model. And honestly, it’s all about the implementation.
We are going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. And then we’re going to talk about how teachers could possibly be abusing this flipped classroom model.
Okay, so let’s talk about how the flipped classroom was getting abused. Basically, the way my students told me, teachers were just assigning them random YouTube videos, and then doing random assignments in class. So they viewed it as a way to make their work easier, not enhance the learning experience for the students.
This is wild to me. Because, first of all, unless there are, you know… I guess there’s sites like Khan Academy, some universities, and high schools have access to LinkedIn Learning Courses for free. But how can you tailor an experience to the students in front of you while also kind of using someone else’s content?
And I get that you’re using a textbook in some classes, but you’re still presenting it in a way that makes most sense to the students. I’ll give you an example of this. There was a master’s, like a graduate course I was teaching for the MBA program about PHP… well, about database management, so I just used PHP as the language. And it was a little bit web development. And one of the prerequisites for the course was an HTML course.
So coming into the course, I had planned my whole semester to start with a little primer on HTML and CSS, so that students kind of knew the very basics. We would cover that in like the first half hour of the first class. And every class was three hours. But every student in the course had been written in to my class, which means that they didn’t take the prerequisite. So I had a whole semester plan based on them understanding how websites work, and they didn’t.
Now, if I had just went on with my plan, the kids would have been so lost. They would have no idea what’s going on. So instead, I reworked the entire semester and I taught them HTML and CSS and how websites work first. I made the course about 15 minutes, maybe an hour of lecture, max hour 15. And then I use the rest of the time, which again, this was like a two-hour-45-minute class for them to actually work on stuff with me in the classroom.
And you know, some students didn’t care. I caught one kid just watching the baseball game. And honestly, if this is your last semester of grad school and you don’t care about what you’re like… I can’t make you care. I want to help the students I can’t help. If it’s a high school kid, and they don’t care, yes, they’re probably not going to.
But if you’ve decided to go to grad school and you don’t care about the courses you’re taking, I’m not going to stand and deliver in one semester. Anyway, that’s a digression. The point being, you’re not going to get people totally engaged, even if they’re sitting in the classroom with you. Some kids just will not care.
So the point being, the flipped classroom is not supposed to make the teacher’s life easier. It is supposed to create a better experience for the students. There are some reports about effectiveness. Dr. Robert Talbert wrote about this in January 2020. This was a report that was done for the school effectiveness and inequality initiative at MIT, but the paper was also hosted at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.
Point being there were some pretty big universities and colleges looking into answering this question, does a flipped learning environment have a positive casual effect on student learning? This was not peer-reviewed, as he says, as Dr. Talbert says, and so this may not be the best information, but it’s the information that is readily available to us.
The findings were basically it depends on the subject matter. So early reports saw positive gains in math, but not economics. So this makes sense, right? In math, yeah, there’s a lot of theory, but the things that you’re learning are pretty much-settled science and they are concrete examples. So you can watch a video, someone explains how to solve an equation and then do a bunch of examples using the same exact method every time to solve that equation. And then in the classroom, the math teacher can give everybody a set of problems and solve them together.
This was before it had a name. We did this in my computer science 101 class, where… Actually, it was CompSci 134. I don’t know what one it was. But we basically would spend entire classes writing programs on the chalkboard with the professor upfront writing things down, taking notes on ideas, guiding us towards the right answer if we got stuck.
So I think that this really works in certain situations, but economics, right? There are a lot of theories and moving parts. Macroeconomics is one thing, but microeconomics is a different thing. And lecture probably requires a lot of clarifying questions that aren’t solved through doing repetitive problems in the classroom.
So I think that if you’re going to approach flipped classroom, if you teach in the classroom, you need to be mindful of that. Like, is the homework like an opinion piece or a research paper? Because that’s not going to be a good learning experience, right? Class discussions can be really good. But if you’re solving problems or kind of doing accountability work, perhaps a flipped classroom works.
Of course, I’m thinking about this because I’m trying to think about how this applies to a cohort-based course model. In last week’s episode with Kevon Cheung, he talked about how he’s flipping his cohort around a little bit. He’ll be pre-recording lectures and then building on live calls. Sound familiar? I think, obviously, a cohort-based course is the perfect vehicle for the flipped classroom.
We’ve seen more and more of this. I’ve seen Justin Moore tinker with this with Creator Wizard and Brand Deal Wizard. And we’ve seen a decline across the… Like some cohort-based courses are doing super well. But across the board, cohort-based courses were extremely popular during the pandemic. And as people started to go out, more cohort-based courses became less popular.
And I can understand why. I have a lot of work to do. I have a lot of running around to do. I’m not just stuck at home. And having to sit on something live, especially in the evenings doesn’t necessarily work for me. So again, I think, the cohort-based course model is perfect for the flipped classroom. Here’s why.
Learners have the expectation of consuming content online. So they can do the lecture part ahead of time, then they can work as a group on whatever you’re learning in the course. So, you know, Kevon’s is about building in public. Justin’s is about getting sponsorships. So maybe people watch his first video on his rope method for outreach, and then during the cohort, they make a list of people. And Justin can be there. And then they’ll say, “Hey, Justin, I’m having trouble finding this person’s contact information, what would you do here?” And then that’s great. Justin can go through his whole process, and the person in the cohort can go along with it with him, right?
If I’m doing a cohort on podcast growth, I might give them a lecture on the importance of optimizing your title and description for where do you want to rank for? And then in the live version, the live call, I say, “All right, let’s work on your title description and artwork.” And the students would start workshopping new titles, Hey, how would you do this keyword research? How do I know what terms to use? And then we can go through examples live together.
So this forces the students to do the work because there’s this accountability aspect to it. Co-working is very popular, because if you know other people are watching you, and with you and doing work, and you’re just putzing around on Twitter, well, you’re less likely to putz around on Twitter.
But you’re also not working in a silo. So you can get this great feedback, and say, like, Hey… you know, when I changed the title of this podcast and add in the tagline, I sent it to like four or five people. But imagine you’re in a cohort with 10, 15 people, and you just say, Hey, here’s the new title of my podcast,” or, “Hey, here’s an email I want to send to a brand. What do you think? Am I missing something?” There’s a lot of power in that. So if you’re not using the time to lecture and then sending people off to work in a silo, again, I think there’s a big benefit to that.
So wrapping up here, let’s talk about actionable advice and tips for you. First of all, I’d like to try this with a cohort once I’m ready to offer one. I’ve tried in the past, and I just haven’t gotten a ton of interest. So I’m taking my time a little bit more. I’m not going to rush this. But maybe the beginning of the year, I’ll do a launch or mini podcast cohort or launch a solo podcast cohort, where by the end of eight weeks we spent eight hours working on your show, you watched my lectures or you watch my videos, and then we actually worked on the podcast together.
But if you do offer one or you’re getting ready to offer one, here’s what I think you should do. Structure the cohort to be two hours per week. But only one of those is live. So say, hey, I expect you’re going to spend two hours a week on this cohort. On Wednesdays at 2 p.m. Eastern, we are going to meet and work through some of this stuff live. Between each live call, you are going to get approximately an hour-long lecture or an hour-long presentation, however you want to word it, or even a Notion document that I want you to look over. Maybe it’s not an hour-long lecture. Maybe it’s a half hour. This is the thing that you’re going to do on your own so that when you come to the live call, you’ll be ready and we don’t have to recap anything, you’ll just know what we’re going to work on.
So one live hour or 90 minutes. Again, however you want to structure it based on the work you’re doing. The rest is going to happen through async communications. So you’ll lay out the homework, which is the lectures or the presentations that you prerecorded or the Notion templates or whatever that you’ve created, and how it relates to the actual work you’ll be doing on the live call. Then students can work through the presentation and lecture or whatever, asynchronously ask any clarifying questions. You could spend the first maybe 10 minutes answering questions on the live call, and then you can walk students through the process one more time, answer questions to get to work.
Depending on the size you could have hot seats. If you have like six people, maybe each person gets 15, 10 minutes to talk through what they’re working on. Maybe you have breakout groups so that it doesn’t get unwieldy and then you can kind of bounce around. But that’s what I would recommend.
Structure your cohort so that is two hours per week. Maybe it’s a half-hour of homework, quote-unquote, and 90 minutes live. I think this is going to allow you to help students actually do the work. And yes, you’re gonna get students who don’t care, you’re still gonna get people who sign up aspirationally and don’t show up, just like the kid who was watching the baseball game during the lecture. Well, that looks like a really bold move, whatever. That’s fine. Whatever he wants to do, right?
But you’re going to overall get more engagement, and you’re going to kind of force the students to work through the thing, so that they have the real results at the end of your cohort.
All right, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening. If you want to hear my kind of updates on how I’m using Notion and thoughts about my LinkedIn Learning Course, definitely sign up for How I Built It Pro. You can do that as well as get all of the show notes and everything we talked about over at howibuilt.it/332. I will also, with members, I’ll share this planning document because I’ve been doing like a three-act story sort of thing. So let me know if you figured out what the three acts were.
Again, if you’re listening in Apple Podcasts, I’m so few reviews away from 100, and I would really appreciate a rating and review. That was too many calls to action. I just broke my own rule. So you know what? I’ll link to Apple Podcast. Just go to Howibuilt.it/332. Howibuilt.it/332. Thanks so much for listening. Thanks to our sponsors. And until next time, get out there and build something.