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Flipped Learning and On-line education (KB, LH, SG)

Page history last edited by Kayla Barlow 10 years ago




As a model for classroom teaching, flipped learning has gained prominence in recent years in the US  and UK. Bergman and Sams are often credited with the popularisation of this model, following the publication in 2012 of their book ‘Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day’. A Flipped Learning Network (FLN) has been established, whose mission is "to provide educators with the knowledge, skills, and resources to successfully implement Flipped Learning". The FLN includes Bergman and Sams among its Board Members, runs annual flipped conferences and maintains a website of resources (FLN, 2014). The interest in flipped learning is resulting in various pilot projects to investigate its impact. In the UK, for example, the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) is sponsoring a trial of the efficacy of flipped learning in secondary maths education, with the evaluation expected in Spring 2016. No research has yet been identified regarding the application of flipped learning to online education. However, as Beldarrain (2006, p.140) suggests, "the rapid growth of online education worldwide has prompted the need to revise delivery structures and re-think pedagogical practices that were once appropriate". Therefore, through a critical review of both traditional and web 2.0 content, this assignment will consider the questions below to determine whether flipped learning is an effective innovation that has much to offer online teaching and learning (albeit requiring further research) or simply one of the latest fads in education, lacking both pedagogical basis and an evidence base.


  1. What are the key aspects of flipped learning?

  2. Can flipped learning be delivered wholly online? How can this best be achieved?
  3. Criticisms of flipped learning. 
  4. How does flipped learning support or enhance learning outcomes (compared with traditional classrooms)?

  5. Are the affordances of flipped learning dependent upon particular environments, contexts, levels or subjects?


(A note on terminology: various terms are used to refer to similar concepts in the literature: flipped learning, flipped classrooms,  inverted teaching, etc. For clarity, we refer to flipped learning throughout this assignment, distinguishing between its blended (including classroom time) and online only delivery.)


SWOT analysis of flipped online learning


A SWOT analysis can be used to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats involved in a product, project or other venture. Although not without its limitations, it can help clarify whether an objective is achievable and if so, the analysis can inform implementation plans. (Wikipedia, 2014a) We have synthesised our research (see below for discussion) into the potential affordances of flipped online learning in this SWOT matrix:



  • allows for deeper engagement with ideas at a time when they can be incorporated into individual thinking
  • provides support for students when they are tackling the most challenging parts of the learning
  • in keeping with evidence about distributed learning being effective for long-term retention
  • encourages development of meta-cognitive strategies for learning
  • student-centred 



  • lack of evidence of effectiveness of this model
  • varying definitions and understanding of flipped learning
  • reliance on certain level of self-direction from learners
  • not suitable for novice learners in some contexts, e.g. language learning, where lack of technical language will impact on ability to access the teaching and learning opportunities





  • potential for appropriate use of latest technology to offer, for example, auto-marking of text submissions
  • potential for integration with peer instruction, peer feedback and marking
  • potential for integration with portfolio learning approaches
  • ability to offer variety, personalisation and individualisation beyond what can typically be provided in the classroom
  • opportunity to develop digitial literacies in students (in addition to the subject), which are seen as key employability and lifelong learning skills
  • greater potential for correlating online and onsite versions of the same course; particularly useful for students who may need to change from one mode to the other mid-course 


  • risk of students skipping phase 1 impacts on overall learning 
  • students who fall behind won't be able to participate in the interactive sections at the same time, or in the same way as others
  • preparation workload may be too high for some educators 
  • lower perception of the quality of flipped learning and/or online learning compared with classroom teaching for some





Figure 1: SWOT matrix of flipped online learning


1. What are the key aspects of flipped learning?


Flipped learning is defined differently by different practitioners. In the video below, Schell (2013a) provides a very brief overview of The Flipped Classroom as comprising "Before class - first exposure" - coverage activity; followed by "during class", where students apply key concepts, interact with peers and instructors"; followed by "After class" further learning".



Jordan-Baker (2001, cited in Ladner et al., 2004, p. 330) summarises the classroom flip in four steps: "1) move lecture material out of the classroom through online delivery; 2) move homework into the classroom where faculty can serve as a guide; 3) use additional opened-up class time for higher level discussion, application, and practice; and 4) extend conversation out of class through threaded discussion." Jordan-Baker (2001, cited in Ladner et al., 2004, p. 335)  also highlights the impact of flipped learning on evaluation approaches, suggesting it may be necessary to "shift in emphasis from summative to formative evaluation" in order to distinguish student reactions to different components of the flip (Ladner et al., 2004). The EEF (2014) defines flipped learning as "where pupils undertake some of their learning outside of the classroom (e.g. watching videos the night before that explain a new concept)". In March 2014, the FLN updated their definition to:


"Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter." (Flipped Learning Network, 2014)


The FLN (2014), however, insists that “flipped learning” should not be conflated with the “flipped classroom” It speaks about a“pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space”. This use of the words “learning space” instead of “classroom” would suggest it does not necessarily see this approach as pertaining only to face-to-face classrooms. 


Whether two, three or four steps, common to explanations of flipped learning is the idea that it "frees up the teacher’s time to focus on more useful classroom activities, such as providing formative feedback and giving more personalised support to struggling learners. It also gives pupils more control over their own learning, leading to the development of better general learning skills" (EEF, 2014). The provision of feedback, personalised support and many other characteristics of flipped learning are in keeping with Hattie's (2009) findings, about influences on student achievement, as shown in the diagram below (for further discussion see section 3).


Figure 2: Teaching effects (Hattie, 2009)


The FLN also emphasises the difference between flipping a class and adopting a flipped learning approach. For the latter, the FLN specifies "The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P": "Flexible Environment" (flexible modes, spaces and timelines) , "Learning Culture" (learner-centred, students actively involved in the construction of knowledge), "Intentional Content" (developing conceptual understanding and procedural fluency in students) and "Professional Educator" (observing students during class time to provide feedback at a relevant point, assessing work, being reflective practitioners).  (Flipped Learning Network, 2014) 



2. Could flipped learning be implemented wholly online?


The first pillar of flipped learning talks about the importance of “flexible environments” where “educators often physically rearrange their learning space to accommodate the lesson or unit”, implying a physical environment or face-to-face classroom setting (FLN, 2014). However, by considering flipped learning not as the flip between onsite and off-site environments, but as a way to ensure higher order cognitive activities take place where and when there is maximum teacher presence and interaction with peers, this idea could be applied to online learning. 


Online learning is “an open and distributed learning environment that uses pedagogical tools, enabled by Internet and Web-based technologies, to facilitate learning and knowledge building through meaningful action and interaction”(Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland, 2005, p. 15). The concept of “flipped learning” has, until recently, been seen as synonymous with the “flipped classroom”  and as such was considered to be a form of blended learning where teaching in the face to face classroom was enhanced by students engaging with new material on their own in advance (Schell, 2013b). However, offering flipped learning wholly online will present specific challenges as the teacher and student are never face-to-face, something that students value in a traditional classroom environment (Oblinger, Oblinger and Lippincott, 2005).  In terms of the technology alone, flipped learning can be implemented wholly online. With recent improvements in the quantity and quality of synchronous communication tools that can be used by groups, in particular, and the multitude of options for cost effective virtual learning environments, there are no technical barriers to implementing flipped learning online in a context with appropriate technological infrastructure, such as the UK or US among many others.


Taking Schell's (2013a) model as a starting point, flipped learning online might be approached as follows:


Stage 1: As for flipped learning classrooms, lecture material is delivered via online resources (these should be carefully selected to address criticisms of flipped learning - see below)

Stage 2: Synchronous sessions are provided to support, providing a "dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter" (FLN, 2014). 

Stage 3: Additional online material, activities and tasks support students in checking their understanding, consolidating and developing of their learning


Synchronous sessions such as video conferencing sessions and online synchronous text chat seem most analogous to the face-to-face classroom. It could be argued that only a synchronous event matches the ability of the face-to-face classroom in delivering the affordance of immediate reciprocal feedback between the teacher and the students. However, even when the teacher is not synchronously present, Garrison and Anderson (2005, p. 71) suggest that "teaching presence" can be achieved through “structuring, directing and facilitating”. 


One obstacle to student participation  in online courses, compared to the face-to-face classroom, is the relative lack of social presence, defined as: “people’s perceptions of a person’s being real or being there” and “a positive interpersonal and emotional connection between communicators” (Cui et al., 2013, p. 663). The lack of physical proximity and  eye contact have made it difficult for participants to read non-verbal signals and feel comfortable enough to take part in synchronous sessions, whether they are supported by video or audio media or not. However, "technology is responsible for distorting the concept of distance... and enabling the learner to access education at any time and from any place" (Beldarrain, 2006, p. 139) and judicious use of audio and video can increase the sense of connection among participants. Students' motivation can be particularly impacted by the need for affiliation. It has been found that student’s with the greatest need have traditionally had the worst outcomes in online courses  and that providing a forum for off-topic social talk can help students create a greater social cohesion. (Grover Seiver & Troja, 2014) 


Tu (2001, p. 48) believed social presence could be influenced by social contexts, such as task types, topics, and social relationships. In particular, he was concerned about how “a less private setting results in a decreased perception of social presence by users”. One way to maximise social presence by offering privacy is to organise students into smaller groups for collaborative tasks using breakout rooms. Just as students often sit and work with the same group of students over many lessons, this may be an option in the online learning mode. The issue of online social presence seems to be more problematic for students from higher context cultures where social presence in the face-to-face classroom is low, where “most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message” (Hall, 1976, p. 79). Given so many online learning courses include participants from across the globe, with little shared context and many from these higher context cultures, this issue is more likely to be a major obstacle for online only education. 


However, from a pedagogical perspective, care must be taken to incorporate the evidence base of what makes online education and student learning effective, and address the criticisms of flipped learning. We consider how this might be achieved through the remainder of this assignment.



Continue to: Flipped Learning and On-line education (KB, LH, SG) - Page 2


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