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Linking Flipped Learning with Mobile Learning:
Findings from the Words2Learn Project

The goal of this project was for a team of educators to develop and pilot two apps that accelerate learning of academic and health career-related vocabulary for adults preparing to enter postsecondary education and technical training. The project was funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and designed and managed by World Education.

Demo of app:

Flipped and mobile learning: Why use it together?

We used a flipped learning approach with students because of the increasing evidence that it can help accelerate learning. By giving students basic content knowledge outside of the classroom, teachers can better use their in-class time to working on higher-level thinking skills and guiding students in the practice and application of academic concepts.  As more and more teachers become comfortable with flipped learning and its use of technology, the potential technology solutions expand well beyond videos, such as Khan Academy, and include, for example, mobile apps. This approach can:

  • increase time on task outside of the classroom, which adds to the limited hours of instruction that typical adult education programs can offer.
  • enable busy adult learners, who typically juggle work, family, and school responsibilities, to use spare moments of down time to study at home, work, or on the go.
  • provide instant feedback to learners and prod them to try again.
  • deliver content in small increments that are manageable for busy adults, and that can create a sense of accomplishment, which can boost persistence.
  • allow students to take greater responsibility for the learning process.
  • enable teachers to gather and analyze student performance data in a timely and efficient way that allows them to adjust and customize teaching based on what individual students need, e.g., more practice or more challenge.

What were the overall findings?

Teachers reported that the approach, the apps, and the learning management system (LMS) supported learning of vocabulary. "Students universally liked the app, found it easy to use, found the form of activities interesting and engaging, and found it helpful for their own learning." 92% of students surveyed believe Words2Learn improved their vocabulary.  Although some students, such as those in the college-level class, felt the words were too easy, in a small sampling slightly over 50% of students passed a pre-test of the words while 79% passed the post-test.

Why was Words2Learn successful?

The Words2Learn provided a testing ground for teachers to pilot student-centered, engaging pedagogical approaches using new technology.  The project was successful for the following reasons:

The app made it easy for teachers to flip their classroom. All of the teachers were already comfortable with explicit vocabulary instruction; however, most were not yet flipping their classroom in a fully intentional way. The Words2Learn app was a way for teachers to be introduced to the idea of flipped learning because it provided a learning object with ready-made content and structure. Students were given the task to learn the meaning of words from the list in the Words2Learn app outside of class time.  Upon returning to class, teachers were to:

  • review and reassess app-based learning
  • do guided practice activities with class
  • ask learners to apply vocabulary in reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities.

A teacher explained how the app helped: "With the presentation and closed practice activities being done by students outside of class, it made for more meaningful classroom work, with conversation activities and other work on word forms that brought out activities of higher cognitive demand for students.

The learning management system improved formative assessment and motivation. Although there are numerous vocabulary building apps, most only allow for students to see results. Words2Learn, however, links with an LMS so that teachers can assign lists and check on student progress. A teacher explained the value of a learning management system: "This LMS let me see who worked hard on the words, completed the words on time, and was prepared to discuss the words in class. This probably motivated some students who might have skipped the assignment entirely."

There was increased homework completion and students came to class more prepared. Teachers reported a clear increase in the level of engagement and independent work from students in this project. "When I gave them the apps for homework, I was sure that most of them would finish and come in prepared, unlike when they had to do their homework with a pen and paper!" One student coined a new term when she said, "Send us more phonework!"

The approach and the apps accelerated learning. The use of the mobile apps gave students a chance to get exposure to the words even before working on them in class.  This leg up then allowed teachers to be more efficient with their use of class time.

Students used the app(s) wherever and whenever they wanted. Students said they used it during work breaks, on the bus, and waiting in shopping lines.  Others told us that it was more convenient to access the words on their phone than on paper or even on a computer.

What needs to be done to enhance future use?

Teachers took ownership of this project, being involved in the selection of words and content for the apps and providing input for the design and feedback from user testing.  The teachers' outlook was to help make the app the best it could be for their students and to suggest new features and ideas for the next phase.  Below are the most common themes that arose from the teachers' experience with students as well as their teaching expertise.

  • Train teachers to add their own content to the apps. 
  • Add more multimedia opportunities for review to increase learner engagement

Additional Feedback and Resources


- Steve Quann is the Words2Learn Project Director at World Education, Inc.

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