A “flipped” classroom inverts the setting of traditional learning activities for the sake of efficiency and deeper learning (Flipped Learning Network, 2014). As pioneers Bergmann and Sams (2012) put it, instructors begin by asking, “Which activities that do not require my physical presence can be shifted out of the class in order to give more time to activities that are enhanced by my presence?” (p. 96). For many instructors, the answer to this question is “lectures” or “direct instruction,” which can be offered to students asynchronously through videos, slides, texts, or audio presentation. In-person class time is then used for collaborative, hands-on learning and various methods of interactive learning (Karabulut-Ilgu et al., 2018). This model resonates with constructivist learning theory, in which acquisition of fundamental knowledge is followed by application and evaluation of knowledge (Heiss et al., 1950; Bybee, 1993; Lawson, 2002; Jensen et al., 2015).
Consider a common experience in a traditional class: the student is required to read a chapter from a textbook before class, come to class to listen to a lecture that presents similar or elaborative information, and work on applying this knowledge after class in the form of problem sets or writing exercises. This model could be inefficient because the information is repeated (in pre-class reading and in-class lecture)—perhaps an unnecessary redundancy and often a disincentive for students to complete pre-class reading. This model could also be ineffective for deeper learning, since the student working alone on problems or a writing assignment does not have the benefit of immediate interaction with the instructor.
In a flipped classroom, however, the student only receives redundant information if she chooses (by re-reading or re-watching pre-class assignments). Additionally, since the student will be working on higher-order tasks (like problem sets or writing assignments) in class, she will have immediate access to the instructor, who can correct mistakes, provoke thought with questions, or provide additional information precisely as it is needed.
Flipping a classroom affects the roles of instructors and students. Instructors do not primarily dispense information but curate information for pre-class work and flexibly interact with students in class. Students are more responsible for preparatory work and must actively engage with material, classmates, and the instructor in class.
Benefits and Challenges of Flipped Learning
Flipped learning leverages the expertise of the instructor in its most impactful setting. When the instructor is delivering large chunks of information without the need for interaction, there is no compelling reason for students and instructor to be present in the same room at the same time. By moving this direct instruction outside the classroom, instructors can use their expertise to help students in a targeted way in class: giving more attention to struggling students and providing additional challenges for advanced students. In other words, flipped learning can facilitate “differentiated learning.” Relatedly, compared to traditional classes, flipped learning increases both the number of students who participate in class and the amount of each students’ participation. Class participation is not dominated by a few bright or outgoing students (Bergman & Sams, 2012). Students interact with each other more, which in well-designed learning spaces increases higher-order learning (King, 2002). Flipped learning also increases students’ intrinsic motivation to complete pre-class work as it supports their quest for mastery and social interdependency when working in class (Bruner, 1966). Students appreciate having control over the pace of their learning; for instance, being able to pause, rewind, and re-watch videos and receive clarification and reinforcement during class. This also improves their learning by reducing cognitive load (Seery, 2015).
Flipped learning brings challenges. When accessing material outside of class, students cannot immediately ask questions as they might be able to with a live in-person lecture. Instructors must also consider accessibility of materials (see Universal Design for Learning). Because students may be unfamiliar with self-paced learning, instructors should teach students to engage well; for instance, coaching students in taking notes, writing questions, and manipulating videos with pause and rewind. As with any strategy that incorporates interactive methods, students may balk at the increased engagement expected of them and greater responsibility assigned them for their learning (Seery, 2015). Similarly, interactive methods often require classrooms with flexible furniture or additional supplies or technologies, which may put burdens on the instructor or institution. Curating or creating content for students can also be time-consuming. Many advocates of flipped learning therefore advise instructors to gradually flip their classes unit-by-unit over several terms or years.
Learning Cycle in a Flipped Classroom
Baylor instructors Solis and Hunter (2017) break down the flipped classroom into three sections. Before class involves activities that help students prepare for in-class participation. Activities during class give students opportunities to analyze data and apply key concepts with the instructor to provide real-time expert feedback. Lastly, exercises and supplemental resources after class allow students to check their understanding and extend their learning.
Designing and Implementing the Flipped Classroom
Below are recommendations for designing and implementing a flipped learning course, modified from Rotellar and Cain (2016).
1. Provide an incentive for students to prepare for class
2. Make clear connections between in-class and out-of-class activities
3. Provide ample time for students to complete assignments
4. Assess student understanding in both off-loaded and in-class modes
5. Structure activities that foster community
6. Overlap pre-class and in-class content so it is necessary for students to complete both to be successful
7. Provide opportunities for students to clarify information contained in off-loaded materials
8. Focus in-class activities on higher-order thinking and skills
1. Use familiar and accessible technologies
2. Be explicit with students about their responsibility and coach students in productive learning practices
3. Enlist additional personnel (e.g., teaching assistants) for the demands of in-class activities
4. Provide prompt formative feedback on in-class individual or group work
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Rotellar, C., & Cain, J. (2016). Research, Perspectives, and Recommendations on Implementing the Flipped Classroom. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 80(2), 34. https://doi.org/10.5688/ajpe80234
Seery, M.K. (2015). Flipped Learning in Higher Education Chemistry: Emerging Trends and Potential Directions. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 16, 758-768. DOI: 10.1039/c5rp00136f
Solis, J.D., and Hunter, E. (2017). Demystifying the Flipped Classroom. Baylor University, faculty presentation.