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Pros and Cons of a Flipped Classroom

A small group of students holding notepads and tablets gathers at a whiteboard for a flipped learning classroom activity.

A flipped classroom turns traditional instruction on its head: homework comes first, then classwork. Primed with prior knowledge, students enter a flipped classroom ready to construct meaning, freeing up valuable class time traditionally slated for information transmission. Teachers guide students as they explore in-class activities that build on what they’ve learned outside of class.

Does the flipped classroom really work? Flipped classrooms have pros and cons. On the one hand, they help teachers save valuable class time while boosting student engagement. On the other hand, they can increase prep time for teachers and can present challenges to students. Overall, many educators find the advantages of flipped classrooms outweigh the drawbacks.

Origins of the Flipped Classroom

The idea of flipped learning emerged in the 1990s, stemming from research on instructional strategies. Harvard professor Eric Mazur’s book Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual advocates moving information transmission outside the classroom to free up time for in-class application of the material. The tactic allowed Mazur to step down from the lectern and serve as a coach for student learning, helping his students teach each other.

Research published in The Journal of Economic Education in 2000 found that educators implementing the flipped classroom strategy at the college level had more time to address their students’ different learning styles during class sessions.

Since then, the notion of covering new knowledge at home and applying that knowledge at school has continued to gain traction. Khan Academy’s popularity is a case in point. Khan Academy offers recorded video lessons for independent study, and such video resources are a big part of the overall picture in today’s flipped classrooms. According to a recent Schoology study on the state of digital learning, 28.5 percent of educators used some form of flipped learning during the 2018-19 school year.

What Is a Flipped Classroom?

What does a flipped classroom look like? You won’t see a teacher lecturing at the front of the class while students take notes. Instead, students who have already done interactive lessons at home come to class with self-generated questions for the teacher and for each other. Lively discussion, hands-on activities, and peer mentoring are hallmarks of the flipped classroom.

The amount of teacher prep time to create these so-called flipped lessons varies. At minimum, teachers can direct students to visit a website or watch a video before class. On the other hand, instructors may take hours to prepare online learning modules for students that include interactive elements, such as comments or questions inserted into video lessons, or online assessments that allow students to quiz themselves or each other before class time.

Although technology tools help students learn at their own pace and make interactive learning easier, technology itself is a means to an end. The success of flipped learning stems from how well it motivates students to apply what they’ve discovered at home. Flipped classrooms take student learning to the next level because they free up class time for further exploration.

Flipped Classroom Pros and Cons

Although the flipped classroom isn’t new, education experts are still studying its effect on student learning outcomes. In general, what are some benefits and challenges of flipped classrooms?

Benefits

  • Better short-term student learning outcomes
  • Increased student-teacher interaction
  • More practice with problem solving
  • More collaboration time for students
  • More opportunities for students to learn at their own pace

Challenges

  • The workload outside of class puts students with jobs or at-home responsibilities at a disadvantage.
  • Group activities can increase stress for certain students, such as those who are marginalized by peers or who identify as LGBTQ+.
  • Students with limited access to technology outside the classroom are at a disadvantage.
  • Teachers who are used to lecturing are challenged to teach in new ways that they might find uncomfortable.

Flipped Classroom Strategies

Flipped learning strategies take many forms. Consider the following seven strategies to help you decide which elements you’d like to incorporate.

  1. Standard: Students watch lectures before class and complete activities or assessments during class while receiving one-on-one attention.
  2. Discussion-Oriented: Teachers assign video lectures as well as supplemental videos, such as TED Talks, and students discuss the subject matter in class. This method works well for history, art, or English.
  3. Demonstration-Focused: Students watch videos or screen recordings of the teacher giving a lesson. The teacher then asks them to show how well they remember the content. They can watch the videos until they demonstrate understanding.
  4. Faux-Flipped: Younger students who don’t have homework watch a video in class while the teacher moves from student to student to provide support.
  5. Group-Based: Students watch a video before class, but instead of working individually the next day, they work in teams to finish assignments. This strategy allows them to explain their answers or to learn from a classmate who better understands the content.
  6. Virtual: The virtual flipped classroom follows the same pattern as the standard flipped classroom, but students complete the assignments online, with the option of attending teachers’ open office hours for assistance. This is typically the method college professors use.
  7. Flipping the Teacher: Students take on the instructor role and create their own videos of the lesson to demonstrate proficiency.

Find Useful Tech Tools

Many flipped classrooms use educational technology tools to facilitate at-home learning. Flipped learning technology encompasses video-sharing apps such as Nearpod, hosting services such as Google Classroom, and software for creating and editing video lessons such as Screencastify.

Customize Your Content

Successful flipped classrooms emphasize content customized for subject matter and student needs. Flipped learning lesson planning can be time-consuming, so many teachers create a surplus of videos and other shareable content upfront, ensuring they have plenty of material to fall back on in a pinch.

Find Resources

Resources for planning online lessons abound. The CK-12 Foundation website offers a library of curated, interactive materials for teachers, including free online books, videos, and activities. MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching) is a similar resource.

Include Interactivity

Because flipped classroom content is interactive, content should emphasize hands-on participation and engagement with the material. Students benefit when allowed to offer feedback or ask questions, for example—an option that traditional in-class instruction might not have the bandwidth to offer.

The way teachers create videos can also boost interactivity. For example, teachers can engage students with a close-up of their faces as they explain a math problem, plus a second camera angle showing them solving the problem on a whiteboard.

Plan Class Activities

With the bulk of information shared outside the classroom, teachers can fill class time with stimulating activities that assess and reinforce learning. Activities can include:

  • A smartphone or clicker survey
  • A student-led question-and-answer session
  • A “fishbowl” (a group of students observed by the rest of the class) problem-solving activity
  • A role-play debate

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