Flipped Classroom: Intentional vs. Incidental Learning

--Originally published at Benjamin L. Stewart, PhD

After watching OpenFlip Spring 2016 Week Three (noon edition) (#openflip, #flipclass), I quickly began feeling lost at the notion of "intentional content" and it´s relevance in the flipped classroom.  I actually did not disagree with anything mentioned in the video, except when the term intentional content was mentioned, which would lead to a "what are we talking about" moment.  The group discussion quickly forced me to revisit what others said about the third pillar of the flipped classroom (internet search), and then try to relate it to what Ken and others were discussing today...and I think I have it.  Just for the record, my discussion about intentional learning vs. incidental learning was recorded yesterday, before having listened to today's talk. Now, let´s unpack the term, intentional content. Several definitions around the notion of intentional content seem possible.

  1. Predetermined (or prepackaged) content available outside of class that serves as input that enables learners to take subsequent syllabus-aligned action.
  2. Predetermined (or prepackaged) content available outside of class that serves as input that enables learners to take subsequent non-syllabus-aligned action.
  3. Predetermined (or prepackaged) content available in class that serves as input that enables learners to take subsequent syllabus-aligned action.
  4. Predetermined (or prepackaged) content available in class that serves as input that enables learners to take subsequent non-syllabus aligned action.
  5. Student-created content made available outside of class that is a result of syllabus-aligned action.
  6. Student-created content made available inside of class that is a result of syllabus-aligned action.
  7. Student-created content made available outside of class that is a result of non-syllabus-aligned action.
  8. Student-created content made available inside of class that is a result of non-syllabus-aligned action.

At first glance, one might argue that intentional content is only that which is found outside the classroom.  But in practice, I do not think it is a stretch to image predetermined content beginning the learning process outside of class, then to a certain degree subsequently being part of an educative experience in class. Even in the case of student-created content, if the teacher permits such content to be produced, then there is still a level of intentionality to the process.  Thus, the eight definitions above are all possible when considering what is intentional content, intentional on the part of the educator and not the curriculum.  For this reason, the third pillar (intentional content), seems arbitrary.

In my wiki, I modified the third pillar to my own third facet of the flipped classroom: intentional and incidental learning.

In the eight definitions above, definitions 1, 3, 5, and 6 relate more to intentional learning while definitions 2, 4, 7, and 8 relate more to incidental learning.  Additionally, definitions 1-4 could also include incidental or emergent content as well (as opposed to predetermined content) which brings another level of complexity to the mix - a complexity that I think is also very relevant to the flipped classroom.

Changing from intentional content to intentional/incidental learning puts more focus on learning by doing and is more pertinent to the idea of flipped the classroom.  Content as input is secondary since 1) the degree to which it enables action highly depends on the individual learner and the particular context and 2) the enabled action really depends on whether an educator can bring both intentional and incidental learning together to meet both curricular and individual goals; when it comes to content creation, the action (intentional/incidental learning) is typically more relevant than any preconceived notion of student-created content.  If student-created content is equally or more important than the learning process, I would question whether or not this falls within the four facets (or pillars) of a flipped classroom.

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