Flipped learning is the concept of reversing the roles of classroom time and time outside class. The traditional model of a single expert, a “sage on the stage,” lecturing from a podium on high to grateful assembled masses, no longer flies. Instead, increasing numbers of higher ed institutions and school districts are recognizing the benefit of the type of asynchronous learning opportunities that technology allows.
To enable this, students learn much of their core course material outside class, from video podcasts, recorded lectures, discussion groups and other resources. Ideally, classroom sessions are then transformed into highly interactive experiences that focus on in-class feedback. In-class learning often takes the form of workshop-style, team-based learning activities spent working on problem sets or case studies, guided by the instructor.
In like fashion, curricula are rethought to mesh with this new paradigm. For example, one calculus course became more flipped and simultaneously began teaching specially assigned and paced sections to factor in students’ baseline knowledge, which varies widely in the first year of college. This often means flipped classes are more agile and effective than traditional lectures.
But does it work? There’s growing evidence that it may in fact enhance both learning and engagement.
“Use of deliberate practice [e.g., flipped] teaching strategies can improve both learning and engagement in a large introductory physics course as compared with what was obtained with the lecture method,” wrote Louis Deslauriers, Ellen Schelew and Carl Wieman of the University of British Columbia in one study published in Science. Their research also noted increased class attendance in the experimental flipped class.
“Our study compares similar students, and teachers with the same learning objectives and the same instructional time and tests. This result is likely to generalize to a variety of postsecondary courses,” concluded the authors.
There’s also evidence that many professors like it because it saves them class time previously spent explaining basic concepts. They can debate and discuss nuance and apply what is being learned during class rather than download knowledge.
Whether it will take hold in the long term is still up in the air, but flipping is indisputably a force shifting practice within the classroom. Why now, and what are some of the keys to future success?
Adoption Is Accelerating
The flipped classroom isn’t new, but its adoption is accelerating.
We are all familiar with the English class model: read at home and then engage in discussion during class. This technique appears to have expanded to other content areas in the late 1990s-2000; however, adoption grew slowly, and it wasn’t until 2007 that the first flipped classroom conference was held.
Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two Colorado chemistry teachers, are generally credited with helping to pioneer the practice that we know as “flipped learning” today by replacing traditional homework with video streaming lectures. The method has been gaining significant momentum in the last four years, in part due to the growth of online programs and platforms.
Two Major Catalysts
There are two key catalysts underlying the interest and adoption of flipped learning. First, persistently poor outcomes for traditional methods have forced school boards and university trustees to explore new methods for increasing learning outcomes. Second, the development of better technology—for example, the explosion, and ease of use, of online video publishing—has enabled professors and teachers to post material for out-of-class study in a new, easily digestible way.
Similarly, the development of new online resources such as Khan Academy, big-brand Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and a host of other apps and platforms have increased availability of at-home materials. In-class student response tools, once relegated to specific hardware clickers, are now ubiquitous with cloud-based platforms that enable students to use their personal devices – phones, laptops, tablets, and create ways to enhance accountability and assessment in class within the flipped learning model.
As adoption has increased, some best practices for the flipped classroom have emerged. Education World recommends 10 to 13 minutes for the ideal video and podcast length. This way, they can be watched more than once if necessary and hold the attention of students. Online quizzing at the beginning of class is useful to monitor student diligence and ensure students complete their side of the work beforehand. Use of a Learning Management System (LMS) can help everyone stay organized and access the learning resources in one location. Additionally, breakout sessions into student teams throughout the semester, possibly with rotating memberships, could be used during class time to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas. Teachers must resist the temptation to simply leverage the extra time in class to lecture more. For flipped classroom to work the experience must be fully transformed.
Obstacles To Consider
So what’s not to like about flipped learning? There are a few potential hindrances.
While the flipped technique is a natural fit for the shift to mobile devices, content and applications, there’s a catch. Though online course material has never been easier to prepare, publish, and access, flipped learning requires professors, instructional designers and IT staff to know how to leverage mobile in terms of design and content, which is not often the case.
The flipped classroom also takes dedication and responsibility on the student side. Yet it’s not clear today’s students are assuming the mantle and doing more out-of-class preparation or research to come prepared for their less-structured class sessions.
Though a body of research is beginning to accumulate, data is lacking to convince everyone. A combination of fear, tradition, legacy thinking and legacy technology in some systems and universities may prevent or thwart adoption of flipped learning.
Takeaway: Flipping the classroom is not about simply switching the lectures to video so you can do more of the same, it must be seen as a means for teachers to create learning environments that go beyond a transfer of knowledge. Students must be more independent learners in order to leverage the time to be more active during in-class learning experiences. It requires a complete redesign of both out-of-class content packages and activities as well as creating more hands-on, teamwork-oriented classroom experiences. Face-to-face time is at a premium, and flipped learning allows that time to be as high-impact as possible.
1. “The Flipped Classroom FAQ” CIRTL Network. September 15, 2012.
2. “How ‘Flipping’ the Classroom Can Improve the Traditional Lecture” The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 19, 2012.
3. “What is Flipped Learning?” Flipped Learning Network. 2014.
4. “Things You Should Know About Flipped Classrooms” EDUCAUSE. 2012.
5. “Flipping the Classroom” Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. 2013.
6. “Introduction to Eigenvalues” Robert Talbert Ph.D. [YouTube used in a flipped math environment]. April 13, 2011.
7. “Holistic Numerical Methods Institute” Math For College [sample mobile interface source materials for a flipped math course]. Undated.
8. “Mobile Learning and the Inverted Classroom” Agile Learning. April 28, 2011.
9. “Examples of Flipped Classes in K12 Setting” Flipping the Classroom. Undated.
10. “Research Says/Evidence On Flipped Classrooms Is Still Coming In” ASCD. March, 2013.
11. “Best Practices for Flipped Classrooms” Education World. 2014.
12. “Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class” Science AAAS. 2011.
13. “Farewell, Lecture?” Science AAAS. January 2, 2009.