The truth about flipped learning

By Aaron Sams and Brian Bennett
May 31st, 2012

Ultimately, flipped learning is not about flipping the “when and where” instruction is delivered; it’s about flipping the attention away from the teacher and toward the learner.

A flipped classroom is all about watching videos at home and then doing worksheets in class, right? Wrong!

Consider carefully the assumptions and sources behind this oversimplified description. Is this the definition promoted by practitioners of flipped classrooms, or sound bites gleaned from short news articles? Would a professional educator more likely rely entirely upon video to teach students, or leverage video, when appropriate, and incorporate other educational tools as needed for successful student learning?

Many assumptions and misconceptions around the flipped class concept are circulating in educational and popular media. This article will address, and hopefully put to rest, some of the confusion and draw a conclusion on why flipped learning is a sound educational technique.

Assumption: Videos have to be assigned as homework.

Although video is often used by teachers who flip their class, it is not a prerequisite, and by no means must a video be assigned as homework each night. As with everything else, the use of a particular learning tool (teacher-made videos, hands-on experiments, online simulations, supplementary text, or current news articles) needs to be carefully evaluated and implemented by the teacher to accomplish the learning objective.

Resulting misconception: Videos are just recorded lectures.

Yes, in a flipped class a short video (usually 8 to 12 minutes in length) may be a recorded lecture, but educators are using video as a medium to pose questions, generate conversations, provide instructions for projects or experiments, assist with remediation, create lessons that can be used during a student’s absence, give example problems and solutions, and clarify misconceptions. Teachers are also encouraging students to create videos to foster greater peer-to-peer learning practices.

For more news about flipped learning, see:

Engaging Students with Flipped Learning

Resulting misconception: Homework is bad; therefore a flipped class is bad.

Flipped class practitioners create a learning environment in which student work can be completed in class. This requires a change in the way a class (or school) is structured. Flipped classrooms may look more like “learning centers” where students are working on different tasks at the same time. Our classrooms are quite chaotic: small groups gather at the corner tables, a one-on-one conversation up front, experiments at the stations, and yet others writing in their research journals.  On a larger scale, an entire school could be restructured to reflect the value that unstructured and “unprogrammed” time has on student learning and well being. Providing students with time during class to complete their school work also reflects a respect for students’ time and life outside of school. Because the class time is no longer the teacher’s to control, time in school is now focused on student progress rather than teacher-determined timelines.

Resulting misconception: Students must have internet access at home.

If a teacher chooses to assign a short video as homework, equitable access to the video must be ensured. For those students who do not have access at home, teachers are giving flash drives to students who have computers at home, but no internet access; burning DVDs for students with no computers, but DVD players; and providing additional access to computers either in class or before, during, or after the school day. Equity is a very important (and a legal) consideration, but creating equitable access to instructional tools is not an insurmountable hurdle. The issue surround equity can be solved with a little creativity and pooling of resources.

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13 Responses to “The truth about flipped learning”

June 1, 2012

I am a 21 year veteran educator. I am a little disheartened at the moment due to the unfortunate events occurring in education at the moment that are resulting in teacher layoffs and increasing class sizes.

But to get to the point, my class sizes are 30 and 31 in a lab environment. How exactly can a teacher differentiate with that many students even with this “flipped model” if one were to try to implement it. Can you please tell me how many students you have in your classes.

Thank you and I admire your work and mean no disrespect.


    June 4, 2012

    Flipped Learning is not the be all and end all of education. It wont solve all problems. That said, and I successfully implemented flipped learning with classes of 31. This is not easy though. Clearly smaller class sizes are always better.

June 2, 2012

I think the other misconception is that a flipped classroom means that the teacher will run ALL lessons a certain way. I think critics would be less worried if we discussed flipped lessons rather than flipped classrooms.

    June 4, 2012

    That is a good point. Not all teachers need to flip their entire class. When we started we were “all in” and flipped everything. I am see many teachers who flip lessons with great success.

June 4, 2012

What a great way to engage this generation of students! Makes me wish I taught older kids so I could try it (I’m pre-K). My son would have benefitted from a flipped classroom.

June 4, 2012

Thank you for the focus on ideology. However how does this ideology create a new pedagogy. In my classes so long ago, there were reading assignments often with questions to answer before every lecture or class period. Then during class the activities did center around discussion, small-group learning regarding an aspect of what was assigned or even laboratory activities. This sounds very much like a “flipped” classroom, I am hoping that you will explain differences between what I am thinking of and this new ideology.

June 4, 2012

Very excited to give the flipped concept a try next year. For the record I teach 9th grade World Geography with a couple of sections of special education. I intend to start with a couple of flipped lessons per 6 weeks including teacher made video demonstrations for up-coming computer lab assignments, Current event articles tied to the class’s region and/or concept of study, Discovery Ed. videos, Brainpops, etc. I know going in I will have 5-10% that will not be able to access this from home. My first suggestion to that will be to pair up with friend who has access and do it together. Wish me luck!!!

June 4, 2012

I’m glad you’re contributing some ideas to eliminate the misconceptions about the “flipped” classroom. But probably the greatest misconception is calling it a flipped classroom and pretending that it is a “new” innovation in education. Thousands of educators have been dedicated to student-centered approaches for more than 60 years. Using the term “flipped” may be doing a disservice to all those educators who have been using a student-centered approach and have contributed significantly to both the research and practice of the effectiveness of this model.

June 5, 2012

The idea is to enable each student to proceed at his or own pace, but to not advance until mastery has been demonstrated. The teacher’s role is to monitor each student’s progress, notice when one is “stuck”, and help that student overcome the impediment — either by direct interaction, or by arranging an appropriate in-class activity. The larger the class size, the more critical it is for the teacher to have continuous access to assessments that show each student’s progress, and that flag those students who need attention.

June 5, 2012

I agree that the “flipped classroom–sans technology–is not a new concept. While in years past students read assigned passages, articles, or literary works and returned to class prepared to discuss them, increasingly during the last twenty years students have not read assigned materials outside class. I believe the declining literacy rate is the unknown or certainly unacknowledged variable responsible for this. Even my Honors English students seem incapable of completing independent reading assignments so they can collaborate in the classroom or in the virtual classroom.

As teachers devote more and more time to viewing versus reading, are we not propagating illiteracy? In time, will we find brain functioning has changed or evolved into only processing pictorial representations because no longer will humans’ brains have the ability to decode symbols–i.e. read? What will we call this type of “literacy”? “As a man thinketh, so is he.”

Perhaps before we “flip-out” about the flipped classroom, we should seek ways to facilitate reading comprehension. In my experience, students who read competently and confidently come to class equipped for student-centered, collaborative learning. The flipped classroom concept is not dependent upon technology, but both the flipped classroom and technology may be symbiotic.–ew

June 6, 2012

Flip classroom works well! Let me use as an example a math teachers who need the time in the classroom to work with those students that need a more personalized instruction as students do the usual ‘Homework’ in the classroom. Many students have questions and get frustrated while they can’t get help from parents and bring incomplete ‘Homework’ to class. Brings frustration for students to the point that some learn to hate it! Doing homework in class, while the teacher is there, is very rewarding and beneficial for a good majority of the class. However, having other methods mixed with ‘flip classroom’ is highly recommended. A flip classroom alone is not enough or should not be the only method used in a classroom regardless of the size of the class. Training students to self teach themselves is very important as is the ability of public speaking. Students need to put in practice what they learn in a fun way!

Here is a suggestion for a Math class using Flip Classroom method mixed with other activities:

– Video should be used as method of giving ‘Tools’ to students that will tackle relevant challenges… The common ‘How To’ video’s – This allows students to watch those videos as many times as needed because they will need it to do their ‘Homework’, of ‘Activities’ in the classroom.
– Bring classroom activities using word problems that will allow students to put in practice the use of their Tools. Preferable, make it a group competitions! – Students enjoy competition and activities and also need to see math as a tangible example sometimes to make connections. Have students practice their learned skill after they make their connections. They will feel a lot more successful and confident afterwards.
– Have students demonstrate their solutions, findings or learned material to their peers. – Students will benefit greatly from this as they solidify their learning by explain it to others and use public speaking.

This is just an example and not a perfect one but I hope it helps.

David Rios

June 7, 2012

I have been flipping for 30 years. I am a Learning Disabilites Specialist and my classroom does not focus on lecture, but individualized strategies that are appropriate for each individual student. Old technique with a new name!

I have ordered Flip Your Class so I can read more about this so called “new” practice. It seems like education just renames ideas. Adding new technology does not make it for all kids. I have students who need the sit down with me time in order to process information. What I would like to know is who gave the new name “flipping” to what special education has been doing for years! Someone must have written a dissertation?