Last week a friend directed me to a video called “How I teach BJJ” by black belt Bruce Hoyer. In the video, Bruce explains how he has converted his school to the “flipped classroom” model, inspired by a recent movement to reform education made popular by organizations like Khan Academy.
In an academic setting, a flipped classroom has students watching online videos of lectures on their own, then coming to class to do their practice problems, group discussions, hands-on projects, etc. with the teacher going around to give one-on-one attention. Bruce has adopted this for his BJJ classes at Next Edge Academy in Sioux Falls, SD. Watch his explanation:
As you read through the Q&A with Bruce below, you’ll see mixed in videos by cognitive scientist Robert Bjork as he talks about the science of learning that supports Bruce’s approach to teaching.
Q: As an instructor, did you have any mental blocks that made it difficult to get away from the classic class model?
A: The biggest mental block I had to overcome was the fact that I had yet to see anyone teach this way so I assumed it must not be a proper way to instruct. I kept researching and researching and finally I just decided to take the leap because much of the information I read about learning pointed to this style of teaching. I made sure to keep one group learning the traditional way just to see the difference in the two groups.
Q: How much work was it to film the techniques and set up the online components? What would have made this easier?
A: The first step was building a curriculum. So far I have about 300 5-minute videos that I have filmed for the curriculum and they are kind of ever-evolving, so I am constantly making changes.
My first stab at this had things broke down into systems and I quickly realized this was a bad idea because the student could go a long time without learning basic positions and fundamentals.
The second version of my curriculum had techniques more widely scattered which worked better. The mind tries to make sense of everything so sometimes putting things in systems can, in my opinion, actually hurt people’s progressions because they are not coming to the conclusion on their own. Essentially I am giving them the dots and asking to connect them, rather than me showing them how they are connected. From everything I have read, if they come to this conclusion rather than having it given to them they will retain it better.
The third version I added moves before and after the move to help with association. So say the move is kimura from guard. The first class you would learn kimura from guard — that’s it. The second class would then be getting into guard and doing a kimura — so maybe you are escaping side and going into guard. The third class in this sequence, which is actually about 10 classes later, would be getting into the guard, doing a kimura then something after the move fails, maybe a guillotine or hip bump sweep. They get to pick the techniques before and after for the most part so they get to influence their game, so they start to associate the new move with moves they already know. I also purposely put it 10 classes after because that will force them to recall a move from a few weeks ago. The more they have to think about it, the better chance it will stick.
So long story short, to date that’s the best possible system I could come up with that and I would try to mimic that, but once the curriculum is set the videos don’t take long. Keep them short, 5-6 minutes per class tops so the person can review easily before class. Also on review days you don’t need to show the move again. Those review videos in my curriculum are me just talking about the concepts of the moves.
Q: Have you run into any unexpected problems implementing the flipped classroom model?
A: With a flipped classroom the problem I was surprised with was how quickly you have to convey to everyone what they are doing. Often I will yell out what everyone is doing that round and I only give myself 1 minute to do it in. If I have a class of 25 that’s a hard task to tell 13 people what move they are doing. The TVs helped with that. Now everyone can look but I still yell them out just as a confirmation that they understand.
In this system, the higher belts have to know the name of the moves by heart so they can help. This was difficult in the beginning too. All of our higher belts had to go back through the white belt curriculum so they knew what I meant. This is tough for new students from other schools coming in that were blue or purple belts already. I feel that it is necessary though.
The other big one is keeping up on lesson plans. It doesn’t take long, maybe 10 minutes tops for a class of 25 people, but sometimes you get sidetracked and the students are like “Hey, where is my lesson plan!?” The nice part is at least you know they care!
Q: I have seen concern that this method doesn’t suit the student who just wants to show up and not put in extra time outside class. Is this a concern you share?
A: I do often run into are people being unprepared. Most of my students are prepared which is great. However some don’t want to put in the work. At first this upset me, but later I understood that not everyone is looking to become the best. Some people just want to train and that’s fine. Now if someone hasn’t studied before they came in, they are the last person to drill so it doesn’t take away from others’ time, then I or a higher belt will show them how to do the move. I feel that even with them not preparing beforehand, they learn a lot. I just think it would sink in more if they reviewed the 5 minute video before class and after. Some of the students make notes after each class in their online notebook that I can see, and I think that further helps cement the learning process. The goal is to not make it detrimental to those trying to learn.
Q: What advice do you have for someone interested in trying the flipped classroom?
A: It’s a lot of work in the beginning and you should prepare for your students to reject it at first. It will feel super clunky for about 2 weeks then once people get the idea they really like it. It also makes for tougher learning in the sense that you have to bridge some of those gaps I talked about earlier. So people start to get frustrated when they can’t think of a move to do before or after, but like you have learned with “training dirty or ugly,” that’s often when the real progress is made. You start to form links and force your brain to remember these things because your brain has determined that they are essential. I am a huge fan of active recall. If I can get someone to remember move associations that they have built they are far more likely to remember it rather than telling them “do an armbar, now a triangle, now an omoplata.” For me that’s the biggest part.
I want to use as much research on learning as possible to develop a system where no matter who it is, they will learn at an accelerated pace. A lot of information is out there and we as a community refuse to use it because that is the way it has been done. Does the old system work? For sure! Can it be better? I think so.
Grapplers of the 1920’s took Judo and modified it into what today is known as BJJ. They broke traditions and evolved it to fit more body types and work for everyone. I feel like the same needs to be done in teaching, not only for BJJ but in schools in the USA as well. I still feel like I am maybe just now a blue belt at this learning stuff, so I think my personal system will change dramatically the more I learn.
With that being said, people shouldn’t be afraid to try new things with teaching. The best support I get is from my students because they know the hard work I put into it. When they see that, they try harder and it makes my goal easier to achieve. You have to really take time to set it up so it won’t fail. However, if you do put in the time, your students will love it. To my knowledge, I don’t have a single student that would prefer learning the other way and that speaks volumes to me.
If anyone is interested in trying it, please let me know I would be happy to lend a helping hand and maybe you can show me a better way!