Flipped Classroom Learning, Explained! (Pros & Cons)

flipped classroom definition

A flipped classroom is an approach to education that flips traditional homework and teaching time activities.

Students learn the basics (from videos and reading) at home before class.

Then, at school, students do practical and hands-on activities that would once have been assigned for homework. This gives students more time with the teacher and peers during student-centered active learning activities.

Flipped vs. Traditional Learning

Traditional learning involves the use of class time for knowledge transition and homework time for practice and knowledge consolidation. Flipped learning involves the use of class time for student-centered social learning and homework time for knowledge transition.

Traditional Learning

Traditional classroom learning in the 20th Century was teacher-centered. A teacher would come into class and talk to the students from the front of the class.

In this model, students were expected to memorize and repeat the information presented by the teacher.

In the traditional classroom, teachers rarely acknowledged that students had different needs. They would often fail to differentiate instruction so each student was learning at a pace and level that suited their learning.

Flipped Learning

In 21st Century education, we prioritize social student-centered learning. Learning is seen to occur through collaborative knowledge construction rather than transmission of information from the teacher.

In this model, interaction between students, learning through experience and hands-on activities are seen as best for helping students come to deep understandings of a topic.

This 21st Century vision of education hopes to increase the amount of time students are doing things in the classroom and minimize the time teachers are talking at students in the classroom.

To achieve this, flipped classroom advocates say that all the knowledge transmission (introduction to topics, explanations of ideas, videos, reading) should occur at home. Then, the maximum amount of class time as possible can be spend doingtalkinginteracting, and applying ideas during student-centered active learning tasks.

Traditional ClassroomFlipped Classroom
Focus on information transmissionFocus on knowledge construction
Teacher monologueTeacher-student dialogue
Homework is practiceHomework is preparation
Classwork introduces topicsClasswork applies ideas learned at home
Less teacher-student two-way interactionMore teacher-student two-way interaction
Minimal group workGroup work as a focus of learning

Key Concepts

1. Social Constructivist Learning

The flipped Learning model believes learning occurs best through active social interaction. During this process, the teacher’s job is to facilitate learning.

The flipped classroom approach is based on the social constructivist theory of learning. A social constructivist approach emphasizes the importance of social interaction and ‘talking things through’ in order to learn.

Social constructivists believe:

  • Experience is at the center of learning.
  • We learn by using our critical thinking skills to come to logical conclusions about things we experience.
  • Talking with others helps us see things from new perspectives and helps us refine our thinking.
  • When we discuss concepts, we come to shared agreements about facts. We call this the ‘social construction of knowledge’.

The flipped classroom model front-loads all the passive learning activities for homework (classroom preparation) so that class time can be spent for social learning.

Read Also: Sociocultural theory of Education
Read Also: Constructivism in Education

2. Flipped Mastery

The flipped mastery model highlights the importance of allowing students to self-pace their learning. Students only progress when they have mastered the content.

Flipped mastery is a form of flipped learning that adds a new dimension to the flipped classroom model.

It highlights the importance of students controlling the pace of their own learning. Students only progress past a lesson once they have mastered the content and are confident to move on.

The flipped mastery approach is achieved because the teacher does not need to gather the students together to provide lectures prior to a class. Instead:

  • The teacher prepares all lectures, videos and reading materials for their classes in advance.
  • Students complete lessons in their own time. Once a lesson is completed, the student accesses the next video or reading material and views it for homework.
  • The teacher uses class time working with struggling students who need additional one-to-one support.
  • Advanced students are not held back by their peers, being able to progress at their own pace.

This approach gained prominence when Tim Kelly won the Presidential Award for Mathematics and Science Teaching for his flipped mastery methods.

Other famous proponents of the flipped mastery model are Bergmann and Sams (2014) and Salman Khan of Khan Academy. Khan creates math videos for students to view at their own pace.

Pros and Cons of Flipped Learning

1. Pros of Flipped Learning

Major advantages of flipped classrooms include freedom to self-pace learning, increased one-on-one time with teachers, and increased time for social interaction.

  • Pro 1: Self-Paced Learning. Students can learn at their own pace. Once they achieve mastery of a topic, they can move on to the next preparatory video without having to wait for their classmates.
  • Pro 2: One-to-One Teacher Time. As the teacher spends less time instructing and more time facilitating learning, students get more one-to-one time with their teacher.
  • Pro 3: Social Learning: Students learn in groups and with peers on hands-on tasks. Social learning can help students progress as they hear different perspectives and explanations that sharpen their own thinking on a topic.
  • Pro 4: Differentiation. As students can work at their own pace, advanced students can move on to harder topics while slower students spend time working on mastering the basics.
  • Pro 5: Optimal use of Time. Advanced students who do not need help can go on alone, while the teacher spends as much focused time as possible on students who are struggling.

2. Cons of Flipped Learning

Major disadvantages of flipped classrooms include potential for exacerbating the digital divide, mixed empirical results, and poor quality preparatory videos.

  • Con 1: Increased Achievement Gap. An achievement gap may emerge if advanced students are allowed to go ahead at their own pace. There is an argument to be made for getting advanced students to slow down and take a teacher role to support slower students via peer instruction.
  • Con 2: Crowded Curriculum. In a crowded curriculum, teachers have to push through topics at a fast pace. Students who self-pace for mastery may fall well behind and not achieve all class requirements in enough time.
  • Con 3: Digital Divide. Students without computers or internet at home may not be able to access video resources required for flipped learning to take place.
  • Con 4: Relies on Direct Instruction. Direct instruction is given a prominent role during homework. At a time when direct instruction is seen as not an ideal approach to teaching, this model keeps direct instruction. It simply moves it to homework time, forcing students to watch videos at home (which they still may not understand).
  • Con 5: Delay between Instruction and Practice. After a student watches a video at home, they may have forgotten what it said by the time they have the chance to consolidate learning in class. Teachers usually spend several minutes at the start of a lesson simply re-stating what was said in the preparatory video or book.
  • Con 6: Centralizes the role of Homework. Too much homework can be bad for learners. Students need recreation time for holistic development.
  • Con 7: Mixed Empirical Results. A literature review by Chen, Lui, and Martinelli (2017) did not find clear and sustained evidence that flipped learning increases student learning outcomes.

Related: 27 Pros and Cons of Homework

Key Theorists

Flipped learning came to prominence in the 2000’s. Lage, Platt & Treglia (2000), Kaw & Hess (2007), Bergmann & Sams (2007) and Khan (2011) are key proponents of the model.

1. Lage, Platt, and Treglia (2000)

Lage, Platt and Treglia’s (2000) paper Inverting the Classroom: A Gateway to Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment outlines a flipped approach to college classes.

They argue that videos can be used to replace traditional lectures. As students rarely have the opportunity to ask questions in lectures, they state that there is no reason against recording a lecture for students to view it for homework.

In Lage, Platt and Treglia’s (2000) model, students watch video recordings of lectures before class. Lecture time can then be freed up for more interaction between the teacher and students, where optimal learning will occur.

A complication of this model is that many universities mandate that lectures occur for courses. The inflexibility of universities and rigid adherence to traditional lecture models restricts educators’ abilities to modernize higher education.

2. Kaw and Hess (2007)

Kaw and Hess (2007) also studied flipped learning in a college environment. Their study presented four models of learning, outlined below.

  • Traditional lecture (in-person lecture followed by seminar)
  • Blended learning (a mix of online and in-class study)
  • Web-based instruction (all online)
  • Flipped learning (lecture online, class seminar discussions)

Their study (and subsequent ones, too) helped flesh out the flipped learning model. However, they have found mixed results for the flipped learning model based on student feedback. In a follow-up study, Clark, Kaw & Besterfield-Sacre (2016) found only 38% of students preferred a flipped model.

3. Bergmann and Sams (2012)

Bergmann and Sams (2012) introduced the “flipped mastery model”.

Their study took place in a high school environment. They would record lectures for students who missed class so they could catch up. Subsequently, they followed-up with studies highlighting the value of a flipped model for high school classes.

Bergmann and Sams are the authors of several flipped learning books, including Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement (2014) and Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (2012).

4. Salman Khan

Salman Khan created Khan Academy, a YouTube channel with videos for flipped learning. It provides instructional videos on a range of topics, but specializes in math.

Khan argues that his videos support a flipped approach to learning, where students can watch the videos at home and practice in class with teacher and peer guidance.

Khan is also a proponent of the flipped mastery model. He believes videos are ideal for receiving direct instruction because students can pause, rewind, rewatch, and take notes at their own pace. They can learn in a safe, quiet, personal environment where they can take as much time as they like to listen to and watch demonstrations.

Final Thoughts

Flipped learning is an approach to education that puts student-centered social learning at the center of the classroom experience. It highlights the importance of collaboration and ‘talking things through’ for helping students learn.

However, it also has critics who claim that it simply kicks the can down the road: students still learn through outdated teacher-centered explicit instruction, but now this takes place during homework time rather than in class, meaning learning is increasingly asynchronous.

Overall, flipped learning is an approach that teachers can consider if they feel students do not get enough class time for interaction, collaboration and active learning.

References and Further Reading

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2014). Flipped learning: Gateway to student engagement. Washington: International Society for Technology in Education.

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. Washington: International society for technology in education.

Clark, R. M., Kaw, A., & Besterfield-Sacre, M. (2016). Comparing the effectiveness of blended, semi-flipped, and flipped formats in an engineering numerical methods course. Advances in Engineering Education5(3).

Kaw, A., & Hess, M. (2007). Comparing effectiveness of instructional delivery modalities in an engineering course. International Journal of Engineering Education, 23(3), 508–516.

Lage, M. J., Platt, G. J., & Treglia, M. (2000). Inverting the classroom: A gateway to creating an inclusive learning environment. The Journal of Economic Education31(1), 30-43.

About The Author: Hi, I’m Chris Drew (Ph.D) and I run things around here. I’m an Education expert and university professor..

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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