Supporting connected learners – Peer instruction and flipped learning

© 2016

© 2016


A series of events triggered by educators who pushed at the boundaries of teaching at the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century created a ripple that has continued to inform our understandings of how to support connected learners. In 1990, Harvard physics lecturer Eric Mazur discovered his success as an educator was “a complete illusion, a house of cards” (Mazur, 2016). Although he knew his students were doing well, challenged by an article in the American Journal of Physics by Arizona State professor David Hestenes, Mazur decided to try an experiment to check students’ understandings of a fundamental physics concept – force. He put together a simple test in everyday language, to check students’ basic comprehension. He discovered that after a semester of physics, students still held the same misconceptions that they entered the course with at the beginning of term. They were unable to apply what they had learnt to real-world problems. They had been trained to simply give the “right” answers that the lecturer required.

Mazur decided to introduce a simple, yet powerful technique – interactive learning –whereby students were posed a problem and then asked to discuss it amongst themselves. Although the lecture was chaos, after three minutes they had solved the problem by helping each other. This became known as peer instruction or interactive learning. Students become active learners who were also “de facto teachers” (Lambert, 2012).

David Malan, lecturer in Computer Science at Harvard University, comments that technology is pushing lecturers to “either get better or explore alternatives” (Harvard News, 2011; Lambert, 2012). He questions the role of educators in a digital world and advises that they should not only incentivise students but provide them with a “compelling experience” (Lambert, 2012).

MOOCs also disrupt and challenge traditional models of teaching and learning (McAuley, Stewart, Siemens & Cormier, 2010; MIT, 2001). Lecturers such as Mazur use MOOCs and other online spaces as an opportunity to get students to engage with learning content before they attend lectures. They “flip” the traditional approach of teaching content in the classroom.

In the standard approach, the emphasis in class is on the first, and the second is left to the student on his or her own, outside of the classroom,” he says. “If you think about this rationally, you have to flip that, and put the first one outside the classroom, and the second inside.” (Lambert, 2012).

For the connected learner, there are a number of online tools and techniques educators can use to engage students as interactive learners. Lecturer Dr Jill Willis at Queensland University of Technology uses google drive to post and share readings with her Masters students to critique as a group. Given editing permissions, students are able to highlight and add comments to readings and other shared works. She also runs brainstorming sessions and tutorials via google hangouts to provide students with opportunities to use Web 2.0 tools to engage and develop networking practices with each other.

Third party tools tools such as  EDpuzzle also provide educators with opportunities to add strategically placed questions to videos to move students from passive to interactive learning. TEDEd provides educators with opportunities to build customised lessons from online TED-Ed original videos, Ted talks or YouTube videos. Lessons hosted online via these platforms provide creative opportunities to flip lessons, connect learners and use class time more creatively (digital or physical) to provide compelling experiences.

A word of caution, Rubin, Fernandes & Avgerinou (2013) remind us that technology needs to support and fit with the learning tasks it is designed to deliver—improper task technology fit results in negative outcomes and satisfaction. Digital technology cannot transform poor pedagogical practices.


Harvard News. (2011, February 15). A Teach-in on teaching [web log post]. Harvard Magazine. Retrieved from


Lambert, C. (2012, March-April). Twilight of the lecture [Web log post]. Harvard Magazine. Retrieved from


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2001). MIT to make nearly all course materials available free on the World Wide Web. MITnews, April 4. Internet:


Mazur, E. (2016, April 2). Eric Mazur and peer instruction [Web log post]. Retrieved from


McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G. & Cormier, D. (2010). The MOOC model for digital practice. Retrieved from


Rubin, B., Fernandes, R. & Avgerinou, M.D. (2013). The effects of technology on the community of inquiry and satisfaction with online courses. Internet and Higher Education, 17, 68-88.

TEDEd. Lessons series clubs. Retrieved from

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