Several years ago, I was working on a draft paper that discusses decentralizing online learning by flipping our concept of a learning community. The notes below summarize the draft paper, which, at the moment, remains still incomplete and unfinished.

The concept of “flipping” is popular in education. It implies a change for the better, whether in course design (“flipped classroom”) or, as proposed in this article, the underlying concept of “learning community.”

Flipping Community: A New Approach

The authors argue that the traditional notion of “learning community” in higher education is problematic for several reasons:

  • Lack of Theoretical Grounding: They critique the field for its fragmented approach and lack of a unifying theory of learning community and social presence in courses.
  • Static View: Traditional communities can be seen as static, failing to recognize the shifting, multi-faceted identities of students.
  • Isolation: These communities can promote an insular view, cut off from the wider world and students’ other communities.
  • Singularity: There’s a risk of promoting a dominant, potentially superior view that suppresses diverse perspectives.
  • Mono-Cultural: Even when trying to be inclusive, a learning community can inadvertently perpetuate a mono-cultural perspective.

The ‘Flipped Community’ Model

The authors propose a solution: the “flipped community” theory. Key characteristics include:

  • Shifting, not Static: Embracing the transient, diverse nature of student identities.
  • Metropolitan, not Isolated: Acknowledging students’ existence within many communities, and valuing learning from those external contexts.
  • Multiple, not Singular: Allowing for a range of viewpoints without pressure to conform to a single perspective.
  • Multi-Cultural, not Mono-Cultural: Actively promoting diverse viewpoints and preventing consensus-driven monoculture.

Big Picture Considerations

The article then contrasts traditional and ‘flipped’ communities on aspects like:

  • Focus: Inward vs. Outward/External
  • Goals: Centralized around the instructor vs. Decentralized
  • Student Connections: Primarily within the course vs. also including engagement with wider society
  • Duration: Illusion of permanence vs. Acceptance of transience

Instructor’s Shifting Role

  • Traditional View: Instructor as the central authority, sole focus of attention. Promotes a sense of the course as the primary “community.”
  • Flipped Community: The instructor’s role expands. They become a facilitator of learning, encouraging a focus on external connections alongside the course. This embraces multiple levels of community and promotes diverse perspectives.
  • Transformations: A flipped community mindset leads to instructors gaining new pedagogical skills, broader technological abilities, and a reconstructed view of student-teacher relationships.

Expanded Student Connections

  • Traditional: Student-Teacher, Student-Content, Student-Student connections within the course.
  • Flipped Community: These internal connections remain essential, but a fourth is added: Student-Community, with connections extending outward. The goal is a multi-tiered approach to community.

Instructional Dynamics: Beyond the Classroom

  • Community of Inquiry Model: Emphasizes Cognitive, Teaching, and Social presence. In the traditional approach, these are confined within the course.
  • Flipped Community: These three forms of presence extend to the student’s external community (level 2). Importantly, this model introduces a reciprocal dynamic: The community also has an instructional presence that is exerted back on the student. This exchange enriches learning on both levels.