Flipped Classroom, Mobile Learning, WhatsApp, and Learning Nuggets

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Remember the droning lecture in Ferris Bueller's Day Off ("Anyone? … Anyone?")? The scene maybe exaggerated but I think quite typical in most classroom. The sage on stage scenario is, by and large, still prevalent. Lectures are not necessarily bad; in fact in some cases lectures are appropriate and relevant. However, in the traditional classroom, class periods are too short (typically 50 minutes) and usually the focus or the tendency is giving content to the students. There is not enough time for questioning and reflecting, interaction and discussion, and less opportunity for active learning.

Would it more meaningful if the constructivist approach could be realized to help students construct their own learning? Is it possible to design the learning activity during the class period in such a way to engage students to be more participative and  more active? It seems to me that it is possible to accomplish these with the so-called ‘flipped classroom’ approach.

Flipped classroom has been a buzzword in the world of academia and enthusiastic educators have been exploring and experimenting with it using different approaches. The basic approach, however, hinges on providing the content (learning resources) online (in learning management system or other learning platforms), hoping that the students will study the material prior coming to the class. The classroom time, therefore, can be used to engage students in more meaningful discussion, group work, problem solving, reflection and other activities that require students to think, collaborate and reflect.

How effective and successful is flipped classroom approach? Well, it depends very much on careful planning, design and delivery. The model that I’m currently using is shown in the diagram below. First, contents are developed and then uploaded to the learning platform. Content can be original (developed by the subject matter expert) or from the existing resources available in the internet. I use multiple free platforms to store my content such as YouTube, Vimeo, Slideshare, Scribd, Storify, Pinterest, Scoop it!, etc. All the contents are aggregated in the form of lesson plan on the learning platform. In my case I’m using Schoology (the social learning platform I’m using this semester — previously I used Edmodo).

The flipped classroom model with social media as one of the communication channels

Content can be provided in multiple formats and multiple platforms.

It is important that students are briefed in the first week of the semester about the flipped classroom implementation — the WHAT, WHY and HOW. The next question is, how do we engage the students with the online content before they come to class? This is where the role of social media comes in handy.

I have tried Twitter in my classroom as backchannel (picture below) as well as to engage students in discussion. I think it has been quite successful. This semester I thought I want to try something different…hmm…maybe I should try Whatsapp…or Wechat, or Telegram. I did a quick poll in Schoology (the social learning platform I’m using this semester — previously I used Edmodo) and discovered that most students are using WhatsApp. So I asked the students to set up the group for the course.

 Students tweet using a hashtag created for the course

The original idea was to use WhatsApp as a quick communication channel, for example announcement about impending assignment, or even last minute class cancellation. Later, however, I realized that I could use WhatsApp to deliver chunk or byte-size (or bite-size) information (course content) to the students to support my flipped classroom. The content can be a small piece of information (facts, explanation of concept, definition, etc.), image, audio or video. The resources will be delivered via WhatsApp before the class and students are requested to view or study the materials beforehand. The class time then can be used to engage the students in discussion and to probe the topic further for better understanding. That’s the essence of flipped classroom. It’s easier said than done, though…

What is the motivation to adopt flipped classroom approach? Many studies have shown that people simply can’t pay attention and retain information over long periods of time. I read a recent research somewhere that the attention span of Gen Y is less than 3 minutes! If that is the case, it makes sense then to deliver the content in a way that a student would have to engage no more than 3 minutes — hence the idea of chunking or bite-size learning.

Many studies have shown that people simply can’t pay attention and retain information over long periods of time. I read a recent research somewhere that the attention span of Gen Y is less than 3 minutes!

The concept of bite-sized learning is very well established but I think not widely exploited. It is very simple but I personally believe that it makes a lot of sense. Bite-sized learning basically delivers course material into very small chunks, interspersed with activities such as short quizzes or questions for reflection and discussion. This has been a popular approach with the proliferation of mobile learning that leverages the convenience of mobile devices and trends in learning-on-demand. Bite-sized learning has many names: byte-size, snack learning, learning nugget, etc.

I like the idea of chunking content to make learning more efficient, interesting and fun. It's like giving content in small, manageable doses, timed at appropriate interval and frequency. So here’s my attempt to combine my flipped classroom with mobile learning. The plan is simple: prepare the learning nuggets using web-based applications or my iPad and deliver the nuggest via WhatsApp. Simple enough, right? The nuggets will also be incorporated as part of lesson plan in Schoology.

The video below is an example of short presentation (3.33 minutes) to explain a small part of a topic. It was prepared using a free iPad app called Touchcast.

A brief presentation just to give the essence of the topic.

The video above basically delivers content. The video below (2.36 min), however, delivers a little content plus something for students to THINK about.

Another popular form of learning nugget is a podcast. A podcast is simply an audio typically in MP3 format. There are many free web-based applications as well as iOS/Androids apps one can use to produce a podcast. My favorite is an iPad app called SoundCloud. Here’s one example of a podcast:

A podcast (MP3 audio) is very easy to prepare on the fly.

Once the learning nuggets are ready it is just a matter of delivering the links through WhatsApp, as shown in the example below.

Delivering learning nuggets using WhatsApp

The learning nuggets can be incorporated as part of the lesson plan on Schoology (or whatever learning platform you use), as shown below.

A lesson plan for the whole semester will allow students to pace their own learning.

The scheme should work very well with properly planned flipped classroom strategy. Since students are expected engage with the content prior coming to the classroom, the class time can be used for activity such as discussion, questioning, reflection, etc.

For example, to check whether students have studied the material, I use Socrative application in the class. Questions are prepared beforehand and during the class I just simply launch the application and students will receive the question (one by one) on their smartphone. The responses are displayed on the screen. This activity is particularly useful as a formative assessment to check for understanding or misconception. Anything less than 50% correct response would indicate lack of understanding and this calls for more attention and discussion.

Engaging students in the classroom with Socrative to check their understanding

Apart from using Socrative for classroom activity, students are also required to do the quiz before coming to the class. A separate set of questions is prepared, set as ‘Student-Paced, immediate feedback’. The questions are designed as such to engage students with the topic to be covered in the next class. Students will receive immediate feedback for each question they have answered. One example of such question and feedback is shown below.

Quiz with feedback allows students to learn independently

Here’s another example of typical activity in my classroom. It is not always a full blown problem-based learning but even a simple case study or simple problem is sufficient to get the students to work and collaborate together and demonstrate their understanding of the topic (content). In the picture shown below, no sophisticated technology was used — just a cheap mahjong paper and marker pens.

Another important aspect to consider is reflection — i.e., to encourage students to reflect on what they have learned in the class. For example, after the activity shown in the video above, I asked the students to summarize and reflect what they have learned in the activity using a free web-based application, Padlet. This activity allows students to think more deeply and encourage them to construct their own meaning while trying to make some sense of what they have done and put it in the proper context. This exercise is also part of the strategy to get students to create their own content — what is termed as 'user generated content'. The picture below shows one example from one of the group.

Example of summary/reflection of classroom activity using web-based tool called Padlet.

Usually I also provide a summary of material covered in each class. For this purpose, I use an application called Evernote. I prepare the summary in Evernote and share the link via WhatsApp, as shown below. (Note: Evernote is available as an iOS and Android app, as well as downloadable application on PC or Mac. In addition, the web-based application is also available. The notes are sync automatically across all platforms and devices).

Summary of material discussed in the class prepared in Evernote and delivered via WhatsApp

This flipped classroom model I’m using leverages the power of mobile devices, communication apps such as WhatsApp and the simplicity of tablet such as ipad as well as free web-based tools to prepare content in the form of bite-sized learning nuggets. What I like most about this model is the fact that students can pace their own learning to suit their needs. This is basically utilizing the concept of learning-on-demand — just in case, just in time, just enough, and just for me. In fact, some students can study the content of the course for the whole semester if they wish.

Overall, I believe the model of flipped classroom that I’m using is effective although I don’t have any research evidence to support. There is a growing evidence from some research reports, however, indicating the positive impact of flipped classroom on learning gain. I would strongly encourage that all educators to start exploring flipped classroom, starting with a few lecture slots.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Lao-tzu



  1. I had to chuckle as I still remember the droning lecture from the movie "Ferris Buehler's Day Off." Technology has made lessons more exciting and interactive for students today.

  2. So inspiring that I feel the urge to immediately prepare my class materials! Keep 'em coming Prof.

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  5. Thank you for sharing your experience,it is really useful and informative to design our lectures to suit the GEN Y

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