Although it might sound like something Alice could encounter in Wonderland, there is nothing frivolous about the idea of the Flipped Classroom. Referring to a broad range of teaching methods, ‘flipped’ learning models use the separate components of the classroom and learning delivery in a radically different way. In an era where educators and policy makers alike want to promote student learning and achievement, (as opposed to just showing up in class), the idea of the flipped classroom is becoming a strategy which is rapidly gaining interest.
“What it amounts to is a different way of freeing up classroom time,” explained Inside Higher Ed Editor, Doug Lederman, in a recent webcast. “It gives instructors more time with students and gets them to engage in some of the higher learning skills,” he added. Flipped techniques replace the conventional idea of the formal lecture with a staggered process, where online instruction is provided either before or after the actual lesson, allowing the time in class to be used for group work, discussion and other forms of highly engaged participatory learning.
In this respect, Inside Higher Ed Editor, Scott Jaschik, says it’s not radically different than a professor setting a particular assignment prior to that subject being covered in class. “It’s not anti-lecture or information,” he points out. “The instruction is just delivered separately to actual class discussion time.” The advantage, Jaschik argues, is that flipped models provide a ‘high-tech, low-tech’ component to teaching; although the lesson delivery might be online, the instruction itself relies very much on the Socratic teaching model and could allow for greater opportunities for interaction and questioning. “This has the opportunity to be the best of all possible worlds,” he says.
One of the more controversial aspects of flipped learning, however, is how the technique might create a changed role for the instructor, where different instruction or coaching skills might be brought into play. The Inside Higher Ed webcast also highlighted the point that there is no requirement for an entire course to be flipped, with perhaps only the most relevant components being presented that way at certain points throughout the semester. And, as with conventional classroom practice, superior content is still key in the flipped learning model. “To be really successful with this kind of learning, course creators need to be finding the best possible material in the delivery of their content,” Lederman maintains, adding that institutions need to be prepared to invest in the kind of technology that would enable the student to stop the lecture delivery and replay or capture it, alongside opportunities to refer to a secondary source – a book or website, to help unprepared students or those who might need more help.
Advocates of flipped education claim improved lesson retention and lower abandonment rates than traditional classroom interaction, and some colleges are already providing some impressive examples of presenting flipped learning creatively. With the goal of creating high impact teaching practices where students are engaged, and not just listening, flipped learning does have some drawbacks. Those kinds of results might be difficult to achieve in a larger lecture hall environment of 200 or 300 students for example, but as educators are embracing ideas that provide both academic results, alongside cost and efficiency in delivery, flipped learning might work well with MOOCs and other new teaching models.
Scott Jaschik maintains that these kinds of techniques might provide a more familiar and less intimidating method of learning for a generation of students already used to receiving information this way. He also points out it could offer great potential for remedial or at risk students. Before adopting flipped classroom techniques in a more widespread way however, more research and more experimentation with the correct mix of components and teaching techniques might reveal if using the classroom in this fundamentally different way will point the way to the future of learning.