The idea of a flipped classroom has been around for a while, but with the pandemic lockdowns forcing a lot of learning online it is receiving more attention than ever. But what exactly is a flipped classroom? And is there any evidence saying it’s a better way for kids to learn?
To understand how to flip a classroom, we first have to look at the traditional way that topics are taught. Normally, during school time, teachers impart knowledge to children, explaining concepts and providing information. Then, at home, the students work on problems and tasks, to cement this learning. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but for some students it can be frustrating. If you haven’t grasped the concepts well in class, trying to use them to answer questions at home is a real struggle. And while some students may have parents or family members who can help them, that’s not the case for everyone.
In a flipped learning classroom, these two elements are switched. During homework time, students are given readings, videos or online resources that will give them the background knowledge they need. This frees up class time for worked examples and problem solving.
The benefit of this is twofold. First, if the students are struggling to grasp the concepts in the ‘knowledge imparting’ section, they can watch, listen to, or read it over again, working at their own pace. Second, the teacher is around during the active learning portion, when the students are trying to apply what they have learned. They can walk around the classroom, answering individual student’s questions, and ensuring they are all on track. And, the students can work together, helping each other to ensure everyone is on the same page.
On the face of it, this seems like a great idea. We know that students do better when they are involved in more active forms of learning- recalling information, applying it, and thinking about how concepts are linked. Doing more of this in class is likely to be a good thing. So you might be surprised to discover that the evidence for flipped learning benefits is pretty mixed. While some studies do find a benefit, others don’t, or even find that students do worse than in a traditional classroom. So what’s going on? A recent meta-analysis of 114 studies dug into the data to find out.
One problem they found is that one flipped classroom can look very different to another. Some schools, for example, used flipped classrooms as a way to reduce the face-to-face time each student had with a teacher. By providing lectures students could watch whenever suited them (known as asynchronous learning) they believed they had reduced the need for teacher student interaction. Sadly, this didn’t help their students, showing that the benefits of a flipped learning approach are in the extra time for active learning with a teacher present, not in the ability to watch online lessons at home.
It is worth pointing out that most of the research on flipped learning classrooms has been conducted in university students, and those studies that have been done in secondary education tended not to have control groups, making it hard to know how reliable their findings are. It may be that a flipped learning approach is less suited to younger children. Certainly, students will need the motivation, and the ability to self-regulate their learning, to get the best out of a flipped classroom. If they haven’t done the reading at home, for example, they are going to struggle in class the next day! There is also the issue of the digital divide. Not every student has their own device that they can watch online lessons on, and families who don’t have a computer, or who have to share one between several people, might find their children fall behind.
And then there is the impact on teachers. Any big change to the way a lesson is structured means extra work, but flipping a classroom can be particularly time intensive, and expensive, at least for the first year. You might need to create online lessons for the students to watch, which may mean an investment in technology like a microphone or lighting. Or you have to source great videos and other resources that have already been made, which can be very time-consuming. And you will need to come up with activities and problems for the students to work on in class, for the active learning part of the session. The good news is that once the resources are made, you can use them for the next class- and there are some hints that flipped learning classrooms may become more effective over time as the students and teachers get used to them.
So should you flip your classroom? The paper I mentioned earlier found that overall, there was a benefit to the flipped learning approach which, while small, was still significant. For example, they calculated that for a theoretical example exam, 64% of students in a flipped classroom would score above the mean of identical students in a traditional classroom. To many educators, that might be a big enough difference to make them think about using this technique. So we’ve pulled together 5 top tips, from the research to help you make the most of a flipped learning classroom, if you do decide to try it: