Flipped learning: A response to five common criticisms

By Alan November and Brian Mull
March 26th, 2012

One of the reasons this debate exists is because there is no true definition of what “flipped learning” is.

Over the past few years, the Flipped Learning method has created quite a stir. Some argue that this teaching method will completely transform education, while others say it is simply an opportunity for boring lectures to be viewed in new locations.

While the debate goes on, the concept of Flipped Learning is not entirely new. Dr. Eric Mazur of Harvard University has been researching this type of learning since the early ’90s, and other educators have been applying pieces of the Flipped Learning method for even longer.

It’s our opinion that one of the reasons this debate exists is because there is no true definition of what Flipped Learning is. The method is often simplified to videos being watched at home and homework being done at school. If this is the definition, then we should all be skeptical. Instead, we should look closer at Dr. Mazur’s work. The components he includes in his implementation make for a thoughtful, rigorous experience.

Dr. Mazur has a video describing his integrated Flipped Learning and Peer Instruction methods, but the major points are:

  • Students prepare for class by watching video, listening to podcasts, reading articles, or contemplating questions that access their prior knowledge.
  • After accessing this content, students are asked to reflect upon what they have learned and organize questions and areas of confusion.
  • Students then log in to a Facebook-like social tool, where they post their questions.
  • The instructor sorts through these questions prior to class, organizes them, and develops class material and scenarios that address the various areas of confusion. The instructor does not prepare to teach material that the class already understands.
  • In class, the instructor uses a Socratic method of teaching, where questions and problems are posed and students work together to answer the questions or solve the problems. The role of the instructor is to listen to conversations and engage with individuals and groups as needed.

With the above framework in mind, we tapped Twitter to learn what educators say are the downsides to implementing the Flipped Learning method, and we have provided our opinions that address the five major criticisms.

Implementing the Flipped Learning method makes me, as the teacher, much less important.

This could not be further from the truth! In a Flipped Learning environment, the teachers are more important than ever.

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14 Responses to “Flipped learning: A response to five common criticisms”

March 29, 2012

Yes!! Isn’t it the goal for our students to “. . .have understanding for the rest of their lives.” As a director of a k-8 school, I can see the value of the flipped classroom model where students have lessons on-line and home, instead of homework at home, and the classroom time is where they can get the coaching that they need from the expert, teacher. I know that there would be more engagement in class because the students would be getting the kernels of information they need to scaffold their learning and help them to understand the concepts.

April 2, 2012

Perhaps at a college level those bullet points would be accurate. However in a k-12 arena, to assume that the student has posed their question online and to build out only content on that assumption would be making a large mistake. At the K-12level, some form of feedback type exercise that tests and builds on the homework assignment so that the teacher can still identify students who are struggling with the concept is critical. I would argue that even at a college level that this approach would be better. It insures that key concepts are understood before moving to the next. The teacher isn’t necessarily building content but guiding student through content in mentoring role, expanding on the content when the time is right to do so for that student.

April 3, 2012

I loved using flipped lesson. They are amazing for all the reasons you have stated.

My only worry is whether or not we’re too narrowly defining “flipped”. While I’m all for flipped lessons, I wonder about two things:
1. Is it necessary that ALL lessons be flipped?
2. Can we re-think the idea of video lecture?

I wrote one article on this ( and I’m becoming more and more convinced that we need to remember that the best lectures include short bursts of information combined with short periods of time for learners to reflect. Hence,

I think the video lectures are even more powerful when students watch them in pairs, stop, discuss, review, then move on. Afterward, I can take them further quicker because I’m not “reteaching” things from the video that confused students.

Over time, flipped lessons will become more popular and more refined. Until then, it is easier to defend flipped lessons than entirely flipped classrooms.

Janet |

    I agree with both of your points, but using the video instruction as part of the “home study time” is a tremendous advantage to the school day schedule.

    I have seen students successfully watch an instructional video and then do a quick skype conference to discuss prior to posting questions. That then incorporates the study buddy system without it taking class time.

    Even my 2nd grade uses Skype to work through questions about their book clubs. No video instruction involved, but the homework is discussed and questions created prior to coming in the next day. They are ready and excited to discuss when they hit the door.

April 3, 2012

There’s nothing flipped or remotely new about it. As long as there have been textbooks, teachers have assigned reading before class. The ideal would be that the students would study the material in advance, think about it, and come to class prepared to participate and clear up any confusions. This is simply a slight change in technology, combined with a buzzword and a lot of hype. Will this new technology allow teachers to come closer to the ideal of having students come to class prepared to participate? Possibly, for a few students who really really prefer video to text. For the most part, though, adoption of this technology, like that of all other technologies going back to the printing press and beyond, will just give you another tool. It’s teaching skill that will bring you closer to the ideal.

    April 9, 2012

    I agree. There is nothing new here. There is a perennial problem regardless of whether it’s reading, watching, or preparing in some way and that is that a significant number WILL NOT DO IT! The teacher is always faced, even in college, with students who are not prepared. To think that this won’t happen every day is fantasy. Using technology actually complicates the problem because a significant number of kids do not have access to technology at home. For struggling students the Kahn Academy videos are incomprehensible. Plus they are full of errors and are not pedagogically sound.

April 6, 2012

Also, the students themselves can assist in the flipping process. It’s possible that they can create videos or other content.

I even have some high school students who come back to create math tutorials for our current middle school students. I use some of those videos, as well as other student-created screencasts, to flip lessons.

Eric Marcos

April 7, 2012

jabbacrombie asks two excellent questions. They should be answered.

Must the entire class be flipped? I’d say not. It’s always good pedagogy to mix things up a bit. What do others think?

Can we rethink the idea of the video lecture? That question leads to rethinking the idea of lectures entirely. What’s the big advantage of lectures over textbooks? It’s another medium, but that’s not enough. Lectures can provide the opportunity to ask questions, but you can do that in conjunction with textbooks too if you set things up properly.

With Internet technology at our fingertips, it should be possible to have fully interactive online experiences rather than passive ones such as reading, lectures, or even professional videos. Even simulations are not interactive, not really.

Truly interactive online learning will supplant textbooks, etextbooks, and video lectures.

April 9, 2012

I have read research on blended learning and do flip teaching in the classroom. Like every other Best Practice, it is not best practice unless it is integrated well. Flip classroom is not just about showing videos. Research shows that just showing videos does not enhance the learning and does not provide better scores. The first thing is to find out more about your audience. I know what type of learners my students are and I cater for them. On the LMS I add videos, web links, powerpoints videos made by me or others, they have the textbook, songs etc. to go to. They explore the content on their own. As they come to class they discuss what they learned and how they learned it. We clear up confusions. They then have a quick formative assessment to see where they are at,and according to that they go to different groups, activities, centers, or me. If they don’t do it and they are lost, then instead of doing the fun activities, group work in class, then they work on their own on what they should have done. After 2 weeks, my weaker students found it a lot better to do what I asked so they could be part of the class. They also found out that this way, the hard stuff is being done in class where they have support from their peers and teacher, instead of at home on their own. They really enjoy the flip classroom and it helps for differentiation, project-based learning, and obviously includes media and information fluency. Again, IF DONE WELL!! And this is where PD is lacking

April 11, 2012

Of course the real opportunity of the FLIP classroom is NOT that students are watching videos instead of reading texts! This is an over simplification of the process.

1. The real change is that students are not waiting to find out whether they are write or wrong when they solve homework problems until the next day. Based on brain research that shows “practice does not make perfect, but makes permanent” Flip teachers attempt to provide immediate feedback in class as students work on problems.

2. Learning is social. The best of the Flip classrooms I have seen engage students in deep conversation about making meaning as they work on problems during class. I think Socrates would love the Flip.

3. Thinking is made more visible by students who are much more willing to ask questions on a class community web site than face to face.

4. #3 leads teachers to abandon traditional “one size fits all” lesson plans and personalize instruction to match challenging problems in class with the pattern of questions generated on the class website.

May 23, 2012

While people are saying there’s nothing new here, I beg to differ.

The difference between having students watch a video and then discuss and/or respond in some way BEFORE class allows for better differentiation AND technology integration (which is a WI state and now USA Federal initiative). Here’s how:

With a textbook, you assign reading, and the next day in class, assuming your students read, you go over the material to assess where student understanding is. This is class time wasted.

With this ‘flipped’ learning idea, your students watch a video, can discuss with each other outside of school using something like Google Talk, and answer questions that YOU can see the results of (many ways to do this). This allows you to see initial student understanding of the concept before class starts, allows you to review only the necessary parts of the concept, use the remaining class time to put students together who are at the same level, and assign differentiated classwork.

Being that the videos and classwork are all available, this allows students who are both ahead and behind to continue to be challenged or re-mediated without taking any extra time out of your day.