In the final parallel session of LILAC’s online mini-conference this year, I learned about King’s College London’s experience of applying a ‘flipped classroom’ approach to information skills training from Karen Poole, one of their learning and teaching librarians.

To summarise, ‘flipped classroom’ training turns the traditional classroom-based teaching model on its head. Instead of immediately teaching research skills training, you signpost people to the appropriate online resources instead and let them learn these skills for themselves in their own time. Then, once they’ve completed a test to prove that they’ve understood the basics, they progress to the ‘active’ part of the training. During this session, they have the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned with the help of the trainer, clarify anything they didn’t understand from the online training sessions and deepen their understanding of the process more generally.

My reaction to this ‘flipped classroom’ approach was somewhat flippant to begin with! Like reluctant schoolchildren in gym kit baulking at their physical education teacher’s instructions, I imagined our clinicians refusing all entreaties to perform the intellectual ‘handstand’ of learning ‘passively’ before practicing ‘actively’. But given Karen’s positive experience of this technique at King’s College, I resolved to keep an open mind about its potential.

King’s College piloted ‘flipped classroom’ sessions because their existing training was becoming increasingly lengthy and complex. Research, after all, is a very tough nut to crack. Many institutions separate it into its constituent parts to deliver in more digestible chunks. But that’s a bit of a steamroller approach: painfully slow and more likely to pulverise the ‘tough nut’ than crack it. Tailored training certainly seems more appropriate, but to do that effectively the gaps in people’s research knowledge need identifying, and this can prove both difficult and time consuming in a group training environment.

King’s College found these concerns were best addressed through a diagnostic quiz which identified people’s skills gaps and steered them towards training videos most relevant to their needs. Given the time pressures of their profession, I felt clinicians would respond positively to any training route where they could watch selected video tutorials between shifts or back at home, with the chance to practice what they’d learned during an ‘active’ training session with library staff at a date and time of their choosing.

However, for this kind of choice-driven training approach to be meaningful, each element of the research process requires a dedicated video in addition to a computer algorithm in the diagnostic quiz capable of routing the learner towards videos most relevant to their needs. ‘Borrowing’ these from other institutions might be possible to begin with, but the video’s relevance to the needs of your library users will never match an in-house product. As for the diagnostic quiz, although I’m sure the algorithm would be relatively simple for a computer programmer, finding a way to do this in your own service might prove challenging and/or expensive.

And speaking of quizzes, the ‘test’ needed to progress into the active element of this training may also prove a sticking point. Although King’s College only noted a few objections from students refusing to take the test, they were unsure how many might have simply failed to engage with the new training approach at all. Their response to this possibility was the creation of an active ‘pre-training’ course as an alternative, more ‘conventional’ route to the practice session. Although this ‘belt and braces’ approach is entirely sensible, the resource implications for health libraries wishing to do the same might prove considerable.

Of course, some health libraries are already using certain elements of ‘flipped classroom’ learning without knowing it. For example, in the services that make up Leeds Libraries NHS, copies of journal articles are circulated for clinicians to review prior to their critical appraisal training. There is no testing mechanism to judge if these articles have indeed been read. But, as with King’s College, we have to assume that people sufficiently motivated to enrol on this kind of training will also have the motivation to take such training seriously.

In the final analysis, each health library service needs to examine the elements of ‘flipped classroom’ training and decide which, if any, are applicable and cost effective in their particular circumstances. King’s College London had the capacity to commit considerable resources to their ‘flipped classroom’ programme, but will your institution be capable of making a similar level of commitment? Only you can decide.

In conclusion, there’s no doubt that the ‘flipped classroom’ approach to information skills teaching represents an effective method of delivering tailored, user-led training for the academic sector, given appropriate resources. Such approaches should merit our consideration. But the healthcare sector’s ability to pilot such programmes may ultimately hang, not on our willingness to perform this intellectual ‘handstand’, but on the depth of our pockets.

Daniel Park
Assistant Librarian
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Conference: FestivIL by LILAC
Dates: 6-8 July 2021
Attendance sponsored by: YOHHLNet - LKS North


Brooks, A. W. (2018). Information Literacy and the Flipped Classroom: Examining the Impact of a One-Shot Flipped Class on Student Learning and Perceptions. Communications in Information Literacy, 8(2), 225-235.
Meyer, J., Land, R., & Baillie, C. (2010). Threshold concepts and transformational learning. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Poole, Karen (2021). A flipped classroom approach to teaching search techniques for systematic reviews to encourage active learning. Journal of Information Literacy, 15(1), 68-83.
Zainuddin, Z., Haruna, H., Li, X. H., Zhang, Y., & Chu, S. K. W. (2019). A systematic review of flipped classroom empirical evidence from different fields: what are the gaps and future trends? On the Horizon, 27(2), 72-86.