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Flipped learning… how to get people to do the pre-work

We’ve talked about the benefits of using a flipped learning approach before. It can save time during the session, allow deeper exploration of the topic and drive more effective engagement. But the greatest risk is that not everyone does the pre-work. In today’s episode, we’re going to suggest some ways to encourage everyone to do it.

If our participants do not do the pre-work, it can make facilitating the session rather tricky, to say the least! We are then placed in a quandary… do we reward those who did the right thing, and proceed as planned, assuming everyone is familiar with the content, but with the risk that we’re leaving people behind? Or do we reward the bad behaviour and cover the required material anyway, so everyone is up to speed? That can be seen to be punishing those who did the right thing, and chances are they won’t make that ‘mistake’ again! The answer of course is to ensure everyone has done the pre-work, and we will share a dozen tips to encourage that to happen.

Recently John has been involved in helping facilitate a series of online meetings for the beef industry, with participants from all across Australia. Initially each meeting was scheduled to be three hours long—quite a marathon for most of us—but especially so for graziers who’d much prefer to be riding horses or motorbikes around their properties! Fortunately one of the other organisers had heard John talk about flipped learning and they suggested trying it with these meetings. We floated the idea at the first online meeting, and the graziers were happy to try it. We made the time commitment clear and discussed how it would work. One week before each meeting, we would send them a link to a short YouTube video that we created to help prime their thinking for the meeting. We also attached just one or two key documents that we wanted them to read. This worked like a treat, and we were able to cut most of the meeting times in half, to be just 90 minutes. Admittedly, we did extend some of the later ones to be two hours, so as to allow greater discussion. Quite a success overall!

Based on this and other experiences, these are our dozen tips for getting people to do the pre-work. These can apply equally to online meetings as they do to physical meetings.

  1. Make sure the pre-work adds real value to the session. We can both recall several times where we were asked to read a report or another document before a meeting, yet it then was not even discussed during the meeting! Maybe the agenda was changed at the last minute or the person who was going to lead that session was absent. What a waste of time! So, let’s not do that, but instead build a culture where pre-work is part of what we do and use.
  2. Discuss the option of using pre-work during the first meeting, highlighting the benefits, such as shorter, more engaging meetings. Ask the group if they are willing to commit to doing the pre-work and get them to raise their hands if they agree to do so. This public commitment helps reinforce their future behaviour. If some people are not doing it, we can politely remind them that they agreed to do it, and perhaps ask them if we need to make future meetings longer, so as to be able to cover the required material.
  3. Make use of the pre-work at the beginning of the meeting—that way it does not fall off the end of the agenda when other items have taken longer than expected. This also helps get us off to a quick start, as some of the preparation has already been done.
  4. Send an agenda out beforehand and highlight where the pre-work is going to be covered during the meeting. That helps reinforce the fact that people need to do their pre-work.
  5. Give ample notice of the pre-work and outline how much time may be required. There is nothing worse than thinking the pre-work will only take five minutes, only to discover that it is more like an hour or two. Where possible, clearly list the steps of what needs to be done, so this is obvious to the participants.
  6. Make the pre-work interesting! Engagement is important—before, during and after the meeting—and we have covered how engagement adds to impact. Make it interactive and engaging by having questions for them to ponder or a quick survey for them to complete. Let’s avoid echoes of school (e.g., making them read a chapter from a textbook)! We could even offer a couple of options—they only need to do one of these—but they get to choose. This gives participants autonomy and can help increase motivation.
  7. Ask the participants of the meeting to meet up with another participant and interview each other beforehand. This buddy system can make it more fun, and also help build connections amongst the group. This means two people then are taking responsibility for making it happen, so it’s twice as likely to happen!
  8. Creating a sense of urgency may help nudge people towards actually completing the task. Be clear if there is a deadline by which they need to submit the results beforehand, for example completing a survey. When we are sending other emails to them before the meeting, keep mentioning the pre-work and highlighting why it is important. If possible, and if we know it is true, mention that we have heard other people are already doing it and finding it worthwhile.
  9. Reward good behaviour, so consider having a small incentive for the first person to complete the pre-work. This could be as simple as mentioning their name positively during the meeting, or as delicious as giving them some chocolate.
  10. Take the time to make their pre-work less laborious. So instead of giving them a 20 page report to read, we could create a short video that summarises the important messages and pose thought-provoking questions at the end for them to consider.
  11. If there are several things we want them to do as pre-work, make the first ones quick and easy to complete. That will give them a sense of satisfaction, and increase the likelihood they will persist with the bigger tasks.
  12. Think carefully about assigning any consequences of not doing the pre-work. We are dealing with adults, so often they will already be feeling bad that they did not do it, perhaps due to a family emergency or some other unforeseen event. If it occurs several times though, it would be worthwhile chatting with them outside of the meeting and seeing if they still want to be involved, as their behaviour is not indicating that.


So, those are our dozen tips for encouraging people to do the pre-work when we’re using the flipped learning approach. And if this has sparked your interest it might also be worthwhile checking out an earlier post we did about adult learning principles as they can help us think through good strategies. But we’re sure you’ll have your own suggestions or experiences to share, so please add a comment below, so we can all learn together.

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Mandi Mcleod
Mandi Mcleod
2 years ago

Great advice – as both a facilitator and participant, there is nothing more frustrating than not having everyone do the pre-course work, or worse still doing it and it never being referred to again.

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