Does research support flipped learning?

Though quantitative and rigorous qualitative data on flipped learning is limited, a recent literature review based on teacher reports, course completion rates, and supported methodology research indicates that flipped learning is more than just a fad for bored teachers and students—it’s improving student achievement in classrooms across the country.

With interest continuing to grow around flipped learning (for example, in January 2012, about 2,500 educators were members of the Flipped Learning Network [FLN] Ning; by March 2013, more than 12,000 educators were participants), researchers at George Mason University with the support of Pearson undertook a review of research relevant to what’s quickly becoming the trendiest model of learning.

(Next page: Learning methods behind Flipped Learning)

Both the review and the shortened white paper based on the researchers’ review discuss some of the learning theories that underlie flipped learning, as well as describe limited empirical research findings.

According to the Review, many methods of learning incorporated into the flipped learning model are supported by years of research. For example:

Active learning, a prominent feature of flipped learning, provides students with “opportunities to interact with content through reading, writing, listening, talking, and reflecting,” explains the Review.

Active learning also has been shown to improve student academic performance, increase student engagement and critical thinking, and improve student attitudes.

Assistive technology is used with flipped learning and allows students to respond and give feedback during the peer instruction session, demonstrating how the process maximizes time with the instructor and increase the focus on higher order thinking skills, said Eric Mazur, the Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University, and a leading researcher on peer instruction, in a talk he gave in 2011.

Constant feedback is another method of teaching and learning promoted by flipped learning, supported by Benjamin Bloom, the former American educational psychologist who made contributions to the classification of educational objectives and to the theory of mastery-learning.

Bloom observed that the constant feedback and correction students receive “significantly improves learning and achievement.” Also, according to the Review, decades of research on how student misconceptions can interfere with learning indicate the importance of strategies to identify and overcome those misconceptions.

Finally, flipped learning incorporates Cognitive Load theory, or pre-training during in-class learning. Ramsey Musallam, a chemistry teacher in San Francisco and adjunct professor of education at Touro University, researched the effects of pre-training on in-class learning and found it to be “easier to learn new material in class…suggest[ing] that pre-training may be an effective means of managing intrinsic cognitive load, thus facilitating learning,” according to the Review.

(Next page: The 4 pillars of flipped learning)

FLIP Pillars

As well as identifying key methods of learning, experienced educators also identified four essential elements of flipped learning, or unified themes identified as the “four pillars of F-L-I-P”:

1. Flexible Environments: With flipped learning, educators often physically rearrange their learning space to accommodate the lesson or unit, which might involve group work or independent study, says the Review. Educators are also flexible in their expectations of student timelines for learning and how students are assessed.

2. Learning Culture: In the flipped learning model, there is a “deliberate shift from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered approach, where in-class time is meant for exploring topics in greater depth and creating richer learning opportunities through various student-centered pedagogies,” according to the Review. Students are actively involved in their own learning in a way that is “personally meaningful.”

3. Intentional Content: Educators who practice flipped learning believe the model is able to help students “gain conceptual understanding, as well as procedural fluency. They evaluate what they need to teach and what materials student should explore on their own,” notes the Review.

4. Professional Educators: During class time, teachers observe their students, providing them with feedback relevant in the moment and assessing their work. “While professional educators remain very important, they take on less visibly prominent roles in the flipped classroom,” according to the Review.

The full Literature Review, “A Review of Flipped Learning,” includes a more in-depth review of the research base upon which the flipped learning model is built; how the model serves diverse student populations; and the role of technology. The Review also provides an analysis of implementations and results in K-12 school and institutes of higher education.

The Review also addresses shifting attitudes towards flipped learning by educators, administrators, students and parents, and discusses the concerns about the flipped learning model.

A shorter version of the Literature Review is provided in a white paper.

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Meris Stansbury

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