Taking a Flipped Approach to Higher Education: Designing Universities for Today’s Knowledge Economies and Societies

MEF University is the first and only fully Flipped university in the world. This blog, introduces the book “The Flipped Approach to Higher Education: Designing Universities for Today’s Knowledge Economies and Societies” summarizes why and how MEF adopted Flipped Learning as a new, transformative, educational approach.


The Economic and Technical Nature of Today’s World

Baby Boomers and Gen X benefited from a stable working environment in which individuals graduated from university, entered the job market and worked their way up through the company until retirement – the “escalator model”. This encouraged individuals to attend university, as a degree was a good investment. However, in today’s employment market, many people are stuck at the bottom, overeducated, underemployed or jobless, while older workers struggle to retire, as pensions and social security are eroded. Jobs for life have gone. Individuals move between companies, meaning employers expect employees to arrive with skills already in place, or be willing to learn them themselves. Globalization, mechanization, advances in technology, and robotics have altered types of job available and brought the loss of many blue-collar and white-collar jobs. Also, many new jobs have emerged that did not previously exist, such as social media strategists and app designers. Old jobs become obsolete, new jobs appear. Individuals are pushed out of fields and have to re-educate themselves to stay relevant. Growth is taking place at the bottom of the market, as service industries grow, and at the top where creative-thinking entrepreneurs are much sought after. However, employers at the top end are struggling to employ individuals with the creative and entrepreneurial skills needed, leading to a worldwide talent shortage.

Flipped Learning: A Transformative Approach Designed to Meet the Needs of Today’s Knowledge Economies and Societies

            Over the past 50 years, technology has transformed the way we communicate. The amount of information we now consume through our mobile devices is limitless. Individuals, to be successful, need to be educated to source relevant information and use it strategically. Universities can no longer solely impart knowledge. For millennial students, traditional approaches of teaching and learning may be outdated. When students come into the classroom, they expect an environment that mirrors their world. They need their education to furnish them with the 21st century skills needed in the 21st century marketplace such as life and career skills; learning and innovation skills; information, media and technology skills. To do this, educational institutions must put in place: effective learning environments; professional development; carefully written curriculum; clear standards and assessments (“Partnership for 21st Century Learning,”). At MEF University, we believe the answer to these needs is the Flipped Learning approach.

In traditional education, the instructor disseminates knowledge to students, who take notes and are expected to remember and understand. They put this into practice after the lesson, when working alone. Herein lies the weakness. When the student is expected to work at the highest level of cognition, they are working without instructor or peer support. Flipped Learning overcomes this by reversing the stages of learning. Knowledge transfer is made available via a video hosted on a learning management system (LMS), which students access prior to class. They then arrive in class prepared to use that knowledge in higher cognitive activities in an environment supported by their instructor and peers. This provides a more effective active-learning environment, and is more aligned to how they will work when they enter the job market. In addition, millennials have grown up in a digital world. This has affected how they consume information and socialize. They expect to see these same patterns in their university education and know they will need technological skills when they start work. Their education needs to match these realities and needs. Flipped Learning meets both, through maximizing the use of technology and collaborative working within the curriculum, and by focusing on freeing up classroom time for creative, high-level thinking, and active learning. This approach gives students the skills and attitudes that will help them thrive when they enter today’s socio-economic and socio-technical market places. They will be used to being autonomous, collaborative, critical thinkers and have the ability to train themselves with the skills needed for the many changing jobs they will have throughout their working lives and also possess the creative and entrepreneurial skills needed to fill the worldwide shortage of talent shortage.

From Current Practice to Future Practice: Making the Decision to Flip

MEF Educational Institutions was founded in the 1970s by İbrahim Arıkan, an educator and businessman. In 1996, he founded MEF national and international K-12 schools in Istanbul and Izmir. In 2013, he founded MEF University. As both educator and entrepreneur, Arıkan was in a unique position to establish a university. He was aware the educational system was not well suited to the current needs of students and society, and envisioned a totally new educational approach for MEF University. To find this approach, he hired experienced university president, Muhammed Şahin. As Şahin embarked upon his search, Flipped Learning started to emerge as a possible solution. Convinced the Flipped Classroom was an effective approach, Şahin shared his findings with Arıkan. Arıkan asked Şahin to run two focus groups: one with professors; one with students. In the professors’ group, 80% did not support this model, concerned about their role. In the students’ focus group, 80% of the students said they thought the Flipped Classroom was the best approach to educate their generation. On hearing this, the decision to embrace the Flipped Classroom approach was made, and on November 20th 2013, it was announced to the press that MEF would open as the first and only fully Flipped University in the world.

Organizational Design and Transformation

After the announcement, plans for the organizational design and transformation process started. The first consideration was location. Şahin recommended a small campus in the center of Istanbul, as students should be learning not only from the university education, but also from the culture and commerce of the city. Therefore, the campus was located in the Ayazağa-Maslak business district. Next was classroom design. Şahin presented Flipped Learning to a number of architecture companies, eventually selecting a proposal from b-design, a Turkish-American company experienced with educational institutions. Their design saw five groups of tables with six chairs coming out from a central podium. There was a smart board on one wall, and “magic paint” on the remaining walls turning them into whiteboards. A “smart” library was also designed for students to access digital materials 24/7, allowing them to control and personalize their learning.


Next, the focus was on human, social and intellectual capital. It takes a certain person to join a start-up. Individuals must be flexible, have high tolerance for uncertainty, work from a vision not direct instruction, and wish to create a legacy. MEF advertised in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and specified the Flipped Classroom as the institutional pedagogical approach. Only candidates successfully showing how they would implement Flipped Learning were hired. To support students and instructors, Şahin established the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). He also hired an Instructional Technologies Coordinator (ITC) to advise and administrate on the technological issues related to Flipped Learning. Finally, the technological infrastructure was put in place. Blackboard was chosen as the LMS to host the online component. An in-house recording studio was built for instructors to professionally create videos for their Flipped courses.

Flipped Learning Theory, Policies and Practices

In September 2014, the university opened. However, most instructors had no experience of Flipping their courses. All attended workshops in the summer of 2014, but none had yet put this into practice. A Flipped Learning instructional design framework was needed. To develop this, in my role as director of the CELT, I started to investigate recommendations from emerging practitioner research. In addition, I gathered feedback from MEF instructors. I then made an analysis to identify performance gaps. I presented these to the instructors and they identified possible root causes of these gaps. After that, I attempted to classify the causes. These classifications were presented to a group of instructors, and they brainstormed possible interventions. The ideas that emerged were used to create: the Flipped Learning course design process; instructional design handbook; instructional design online course; and best practice checklist. In addition, an instructor mentorship program was established. For the students, an online academic support site was created to provide Flipped Learning learner training, and a student drop-in center and a student mentorship program were established.

Emerging Stories

           To continually improve, it is necessary to gain feedback from a range of stakeholders so their insights can be analyzed, evaluated, and improvement plans put into place. During the second year, the CELT invited a range of stakeholders to share their stories. In chapter sixteen, the university president shared his ideas on leadership: transparency, vision, accountability, and resources. The CELT, ITC, and library director presented their experiences regarding supporting Flipped Learning through digital pedagogy, training and digital resources. Representatives from the English Language Preparatory Program gave insights into how they were engaging students in a Flipped language-learning environment. Instructors from the School of Foreign Languages described how they had Flipped language, literature, and digital literacy classes. An engineering professor described how he was developing its Flipped approach to calculus. The Faculty of Education wrote about how they are creating the Flipped educators of the future, through leading by example. From the Faculty of Economics, Administrative and Social Sciences, one professor discussed the differentiated approaches he is using in his Flipped classes, and two others shared their experiences of using digital platforms. A law professor shared her personal experiences of making the transition from a traditional lecture approach to a Flipped approach. The Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture described how it emerged that the educational approach in architecture is already Flipped, especially in the design build studio. Three students shared their experiences about being Flipped learners. Finally, an American instructor discussed his research into the cultural aspects inherent in Flipped Learning.


Milestones for Success

           MEF opened in 2014 as the world’s first fully Flipped University. However, it is not possible for an institution to immediately achieve Flipped Learning excellence; that takes time. Nevertheless, by starting with this bold statement, MEF was able to set a shared vision right from the start, stating the clear need for a new type of educational system to suit the needs of today’s students, and societies. The challenge now is to continually develop the Flipped Learning provision. These are the milestones we are working on in the 2016-2017 academic year.


MEF University president, Muhammed Şahin, is constantly driving for improvement. To do this, he draws on the vision of the university “to educate innovative and entrepreneurial global leaders to shape the future”. To ensure the shared vision is fully adopted at MEF, the following milestones are being implemented.

  • Provide incentives by reinforcing positive performances. MEF Teachers’ Awards will be implemented at the end of academic year 2016-2017. Additional awards for best video, most authentic real-life assessment, and most innovative use of new technology will also be presented. MEF Learner Awards will also be introduced, with each faculty (instructors and students) nominating a student for the award.
  • Develop an institutional philosophy in order to develop a contemporary assessment system. To maximize the effectiveness of the Flipped Learning Approach, MEF leaders are investigation how leading universities, such as Harvard, are changing their traditional assessment systems for contemporary systems. From what is discovered, a MEF philosophy on assessment will developed and more meaningful assessments will be introduced where students demonstrate skills they will need when they enter the workforce.


Institutional commitment and investment

While the physical and technological infrastructure were put in place by 2014, it is important that needs are constantly reviewed so that technologies are kept up-to-date and the changing needs of instructors and students are met.

  • Allocating more funding for Flipped Learning conferences, memberships, research, and publications. Traditionally, research, publications, and conferences are field-specific. However, at MEF, it is essential instructors are also researching their own Flipped Learning practice. For this reason, as well as providing financial support for instructors’ fields of research, funding is provided in support of research, presentations and conferences specifically related to practitioner research into Flipped Learning.



When offering a fully Flipped educational experience, it is critical the technological infrastructure is able to support learning. If there are consistent technological problems, student and instructors’ belief in the system will fail and resistance will develop.

  • Convert any remaining classrooms in the university into fully functional Flipped classrooms.


Effective and available support for academic staff

Despite all incoming staff agreeing to follow the Flipped Learning approach, pockets of resistance were seen as some struggled to let go of previous practice and come to terms with the new method. It is therefore important to provide adequate support to each individual in to establish and sustain an environment of growth and development.

  • Effective practices for Flipping large classes will be developed. Class size has arisen as an issue for some instructors; it is easy to set up active learning in the Flipped classrooms, with a maximum of 35 students. However, large classes will be a necessity on core, 101 courses, and the majority of these will take place in lecture theatres. MEF is currently developing its own research-based practices for large, core classes that take place in lecture theatres, in which instructors are trialing a range of techniques, technologies, and assessments in to develop best practices.
  •  Provide clear guidelines regarding copyright. The CELT, Library Director, and representatives from publishing companies will draw up a document clarifying what can and cannot legally be included in videos to ensure instructors are clear on what is in breach of copyright.
  •  Formalizing an instructor development program. A voluntary, year-long instructor development program is being developed that focuses on best practices in Flipped Learning course design, implementation and delivery and how to create engaging, relevant and creative videos.
  •  Introduce a program for peer observation and collaboration. A peer observation and collaboration program that focuses on classroom practices and shared knowledge and experience will be implemented in the third year.


Ability to demonstrate the benefits to the student and staff experience

To believe in Flipped Learning, students must see that the learning experience is superior to previous learning experiences. Likewise, instructors must be able to see how it can improve the teaching and learning experience, making it more fun, dynamic and motivating.

  •  Provide more information to students about effectively engaging with Flipped courses during the orientation program and beyond.


Evidence-based decision-making and a continuous cycle of improvement

Meaningful data should be gathered in order to inform evidence-based decision-making.

  • Build capacity and skills in order to enhance evidence-based decision-making. A precise analytics tool is required that can connect data from the LMS and student information system together. Ultimately, more detailed and connected analytics will assist in guiding our actions to benefit and all the stakeholders at MEF University.
  •  Develop differentiated best practices for Flipped Learning, specific to disciplines. By the end of the first year, best practices for Flipped Learning had been developed. However, these guidelines were too generic. Differentiated flipped approaches are being developed for each discipline. These will be turned into institutional quality assurance parameters against which instructors will be held accountable.
  •  Introduction of more digital platforms. Current trials of digital platforms have been successful. In the next academic year, more will be introduced.


Looking to the Long Term

It is with great pride that we see Flipped Learning is beginning to be adopted at a number of universities in Turkey. On a daily basis, we are contacted by universities who wish to implement Flipped Learning. We are happy to support them by sharing our expertise. However, by the time students enter university, traditional learning habits are already internalized. Students need exposure to the Flipped Learning approach from the earliest stages of their education. Looking to the long term, therefore, we wish to support schools wishing to embrace Flipped Learning. Ultimately, we would like to work with the Turkish Ministry of National Education, to create a framework for schools to follow a Flipped approach on a national level.


About the Author


Dr. Caroline Fell Kurban is the Director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at MEF University. Being one of the drivers of Flipped Learning at MEF, her role sees her: developing learner training support in Flip for students; providing professional development for instructors developing and teaching Flipped courses; and developing quality assurance parameters to ensure the successful implementation and continuation of Flipped Learning at MEF University. Her book, The Flipped Approach to Higher Education: Designing Universities for Today’s Knowledge Economies and Societies, co-authored with Professor Muhammed Şahin, was published in October 2016.


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