‘Flipped’ learning – what is it?

What is flipped learning?

‘Flipped learning’ or ‘the flipped classroom’ are recent buzz words/phrases in education. Flipping is an approach that comes in two parts:

  1. the ‘transmission’ or ‘delivery’ part of teaching (in Higher Education this is often a lecture) is replaced by a way of delivering the same or similar to students at home, often by means of video recording of a traditional lecture. This is intended to prepare students for the second part of the flip.
  2. a face-to-face (f2f) session during which students actively engage with the subject matter, learning materials and perhaps with their peers and with the lecturer.

Why flip?

‘The consensus is that dynamic, interactive learning in which students are presented with opportunities to solve problems is more effective than students functioning as receivers of didactic transmission. Interacting might be with the ‘lecturer’ or between peers.’… (Lancaster, S., 2013)

What’s wrong with the traditional lecture, you might ask? Typically, students are passive ‘receivers of didactic transmission’ in a traditional lecture and they only actively engage with the subject matter during self-study. Moreover, there may be little interaction with the lecturer and between peers. The potential problems here are well known. Passive students tend to drift off in lectures, are unable to follow the points being made or can’t keep up with the pace of the ‘delivery’ as they juggle between taking notes and actively listening. The experience can be discouraging for many students and may result in poor attendance, high drop out and high failure rates.

Of course, many (most?) lectures are not like this. In many lectures students are encouraged to ask and respond to questions and to participate and engage in various ways beyond just listening and taking notes. Even where this is the case, however, it is often the same small subset of students who ask and answer the questions posed and participate beyond being physically present. For many students, even when there’s a lot of interaction with the lecturer (via questions etc.), the traditional lecture is still a largely passive experience.

Face-to-face time

‘Flipping’ aims to use the valuable face-to-face time in the timetable for activities such as problem solving, simulations, discussion, debate and analysis of case studies. Much learning happens as a result of these interactions, with students able to learn from and with each other. With the expertise of the lecturer on hand, this approch also allows the instructor more time to address the individual needs of students rather than teaching the class as a whole.

Self-study time

In the traditional model students spend self-study periods working alone in the library or at home. They use notes and handouts from the lecture plus text books and journals, and work to complete the assignments they have been given. They do this without the benefit of a subject expert (a lecturer) or their peers to provide support and guidance. The flipped approach uses these quiet self-study periods for the ‘didactic transmission’ of information – often by means of a recorded lecture or presentation.

Flipped classroom approach used in Engineering, Design and Maths (EDM) department

Using video to flip the classroom

What is a flipped classroom?


1 thought on “‘Flipped’ learning – what is it?”

  1. I used the flipped classroom approach last year for the first time. In many ways it worked really well. Students who came to my sessions engaged well with the material and I think they had a sounder understanding of the topic through this approach (although this is hard to objectively quantify). The small amount of feedback I received through the online evaluation process (despite 4 or 5 reminders…) indicated that they found the module stimulating.

    However, there was a (small) group of students who failed to engage, rarely turned up and did badly in coursework and the exam. Feedback was specifically sought from these students. They appeared to be unhappy about the lack of lectures and the requirement to engage during sessions.

    Do we just have to accept that you can never please everyone all the time? How can we change the culture so that students start to understand that passive learning does them no favours either?

    I’m going to take the same approach again this year, trying to be even more explicit with the students what is expected from them and why this will benefit them. But I’d like to know if others have had similar experiences and ideas for bringing happy passive learners on board.

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