The Flipped Classroom for Improved Learning: Pros and Cons

An educational model called flip teaching, flip learning, or the flipped classroom is growing in popularity. In the traditional model of education, the teacher stands in front of a class and gives a lecture to transmit information. The students then do homework to reinforce what they learned in class. In the flipped classroom, the process is reversed. Students obtain information from an instructional video at night. They spend their day doing reinforcement work inside (or outside) the classroom with the teacher’s help.

In the best flipped classrooms, “flipping” assignments is not simply a matter of switching traditional class work and homework. The videos that are watched at home are interesting and enjoyable. The class activities or field trips not only reinforce ideas but also provide enrichment and teach valuable skills. Proponents of the system say that flipped teaching helps their students learn. The system is used to teach various age levels, but this article applies specifically to the education of high school or secondary school students.

In flip teaching, the classroom teacher serves two functions.

  • He or she guides students in hands-on, enrichment, and reinforcement activities such as performing lab experiments, completing creative projects or challenges, working in groups, solving practice problems, and answering practice questions.
  • The teacher performs the role of a tutor by helping students when they have problems and giving them individualized attention.

One thing that the teacher doesn’t do in a flipped classroom is give a lecture to the whole class, apart from describing procedures for an experiment or introducing a project.

Videos Can Be Paused and Replayed

One advantage of flipped classrooms is that when students are obtaining information by watching a video, they can pause or restart the video as often as they want in order to understand it. This isn’t possible during a teacher’s lecture. Some teachers ask their students to make notes based on a video, just as they would do if they were listening to a lecture in class. This is not only helpful for the students but also enables the teacher to decide whether the students actually watched the video.

Class Activities Can Provide Enrichment

Ideally, the class activities performed in a flipped classroom give students an interesting, clearer, and richer understanding of a topic. If they have already covered the basic facts about a topic at night, the activities during the day can be more challenging. Problem solving, analysis, and application, and creative, practical, and field work are all valuable activities for a flipped classroom. Teachers will need to choose assignments carefully in order to promote enrichment for all students, however. Creating or choosing these assignments may be time-consuming when a flipped classroom is first created.

Students Can Work at Their Own Pace

Proponents of flipped classrooms say that they allow students to work at their own pace. If the students are studying a topic that is easy for them they can move ahead rapidly or be challenged by harder or enrichment assignments. When they reach a difficult section they can slow down and get extra help. Some students may need deadlines for assignments in order to complete them within a reasonable timespan, however.

There may have to be exceptions to the “work at your own” pace plan if it’s used. For example, in some lab experiments safety is very important. The class may need to perform the experiment together and at the same time so that the teacher can direct and monitor the students’ activity. The teachers mustn’t be distracted by students performing other tasks in the room.

Different Learning Styles Can Be Accommodated

In flip teaching, teachers spend a lot of time interacting with their students and giving feedback. A teacher and student may develop a better relationship because of this interaction. Teachers also have more opportunity to accommodate the different learning styles of their students in a flipped classroom. Students can be given individualized assignments.

No Teacher Is Available During the Video Presentation

One disadvantage of obtaining information from a video with no teacher available is that the student can’t ask a question to clarify any information that they don’t understand. Teachers in flipped classrooms often encourage their students to write down any questions that they have about the information presented in a video so that they can discuss the problems in the next class.

Students could also check on the Internet or in their textbook for answers to their questions. It might be a good idea for teachers to give students a list of suitable websites related to the topic being studied or a list of relevant pages in a textbook. This will help the students to find reliable information quickly if they need to do so.

Lack of Student Compliance

Another problem may be student compliance. In a flipped classroom, the students need to view the educational videos at night in order to participate in class activities during the day. There is probably a higher commitment to viewing videos at home than to completing conventional homework. Some students may ignore the videos, however, especially if there is no check up done in class to assess whether they watched them. They could watch a missed video at school during class time, but this will slow their progress in a course. The teacher in the video below discusses this problem.

No Student Internet Access

Another problem is that some students may not have a computer or Internet access at home. In this case flip teaching may not work. Some teachers solve the problem by giving students without a computer a handout that covers the material in the video and suggesting that students watch the video on a school computer before or after school. However, this may alienate the students who don’t have computers or electronic devices because they are being treated differently from their peers. Using a public library computer could help, but this would require a student to repeatedly go to the library after school hours. Students with a computer at home and no Internet access or with a video player but no computer could be given flash drives or DVDs containing the videos.

Students May Be at Different Places in a Course

If the students in a flipped classroom have to master topics in a specific sequence, they may end up working at different rates. It’s important that there is no stigma attached to students working on a topic that others have completed. Teachers need to stress that all students can finish the course requirements and that it’s fine if some students need to get more practice in a certain topic before they move on. The best flipped classrooms have a collaborative and supportive atmosphere that is created by both the teacher and the students.

Students who have completed and understood a section of a course can be great helpers for those who are struggling. In addition, the act of explaining a topic to someone else reinforces and clarifies the information in the helper’s mind.

Even without having a flipped classroom, teachers can still make use of Internet videos by incorporating time on the school’s computers into their classes. The number of free educational videos on the Internet is huge and is growing rapidly. It’s important for teachers to choose videos that are both interesting and educational and that cover the curriculum properly. The length of the videos and the dates when they must be viewed is an important consideration in flipped courses, especially when more than one of a student’s courses are flipped. Teachers in a school should coordinate the timing of at-home assignments so that a student is not overwhelmed with homework.

Some teachers create their own videos, but at least in the topic that I teach—science—there are many suitable videos on the Internet that would be time-consuming or impossible for me to create myself. For example, the videos may show blood flow through blood vessels, the behavior of microscopic creatures in a greatly magnified view, animals that students may never see in real life, chemistry experiments that involve expensive equipment that the school can’t afford or that are too dangerous to perform in a school lab, and animations illustrating complex processes in the human body. Other videos may be more like lectures, but these may be useful too.

Some people have argued that watching a video in which a person lectures and draws on a board is no different from listening to a teacher lecturing in front of a class. The fact that students can replay a section of a video is an advantage, though. In addition, by looking at videos that present factual information in the evening, students are free to do practical, analytical, and interactive work during class time. It’s a better learning experience for students if the videos are as interesting as possible, however. Enjoyable videos may promote compliance with the flipped classroom concept.

Salman Khan is the creator of a large, popular, and free collection of educational videos that he has placed on his Khan Academy website and on his YouTube channel. The videos show Khan (or other people) writing and drawing on a black background. He narrates the videos, but his face is never visible.

Khan’s videos are relatively low-tech, his drawings are simple, and the videos aren’t very colourful. His explanations and presentation have captured people’s interest, however, and are being used as homework in flipped courses. The videos cover a wide range of subjects. Suitable versions are available for elementary, high school, and college students. They provide a wonderful opportunity for the general public to learn new things as well. Currently, over 6,000 videos are available on the website.

A large number of content specialists are part of the Khan Academy and present some of the videos. The academy also presents specialized content from organizations such as NASA and MIT. Khan’s goal is to establish a free virtual school in which “anyone can learn anything”. I enjoy watching the academy’s videos. There are other good science videos on YouTube, though. Interestingly, one popular series known as “Crash Course” is also available at the Khan Academy.

Some educators are very excited about flipped classrooms and say that they have greatly helped their students. Others are more cautious and want to see data showing that flipped classrooms actually work. Some people have criticisms of the system and don’t like it. The interest in flipped learning is growing, however. The model is being incorporated into university and college causes as well as high school ones.

When an investigator is reading about the apparent success of the model in a particular course, he or she should examine all of the details related to how the course was run. Different teachers have different ideas about how best to flip a course and about what procedures to follow for their class. This could affect learning outcomes. Someone who is thinking about teaching a flipped course could flip just one section at first to see how it goes.

The flipped classroom is an educational model that involves a change for both students and teachers but could offer important benefits. I suspect that we’ll be hearing a lot more about the topic in the near future.

  • Information about the flipped classroom from the University of Texas
  • Flipping the classroom facts from the University of Washington
  • Flip teaching information from Western Washington University
  • An interesting research project about teacher experiences with flipped classrooms from a University of Toronto Master of Teaching degree student