Show students that the flipped classroom is much more than self-directed learning

Tan Bhing Leet provides three suggestions to help educators maximise the benefits of flipped classrooms

Tan Bhing Leet 's avatar
24 Aug 2023
bookmark plus
  • Top of page
  • Main text
  • More on this topic
Asian student reading and studying at home for flipped classroom

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

SIT square logo

You may also like

An evidence-based approach to flipped learning
3 minute read
Students applauding their professor

“Prof, I know you say the flipped classroom encourages active learning, but my peers and I feel that we’re learning and figuring things out by ourselves most of the time.”

Words to this effect will feel familiar to a great many educators all over the world. The flipped classroom has become a highly popular teaching method in universities, at least partly thanks to the wide adoption of education technology tools and the push towards asynchronous and online learning during the pandemic period. In addition, the drive for developing content for microcredentials means that educators are looking toward contents that are bite-sized and foster self-paced learning.

However, in recent years, there appears to be a notion among undergraduate students that flipped classes mean self-directed learning and some may express frustration at having to plough through reading materials and videos. Students might also feel insecure about whether they have “got it right”. In my experience, these phenomena most often occur if educators or students are not making full use of in-class learning opportunities when adopting flipped classroom methods. Here are some suggestions for educators to maximise the benefits of flipped classrooms.

1. Plan in-class activities carefully to meet learning outcomes

Educators might put great effort into curating recorded content but give less thought to planning in-class activities to ensure that knowledge gaps are closed and application activities are fruitful. For students, some might be spending class time catching up on content they should have learnt prior to class, or perhaps they struggle to integrate knowledge with hands-on applications. Therefore, it is important for educators to plan in-class activities carefully to facilitate the achievement of intended learning outcomes.

Opportunities for students to clarify their doubts from pre-class content should be given, followed by activities that integrate knowledge from pre-class learning into the demonstration of competencies. Incorporating activities that utilise various sensory systems – such as visual, auditory, tactile, movement and more – allows students with different learning styles to internalise new information and skills successfully. This is when the skills of the educator come into play: how to ask the right questions to trigger critical thinking; how to provide timely, specific and constructive feedback such that students do not feel lost; how to boost their interest in the subject matter by creating eureka moments during class. These are a few areas that educators will want to reflect on to enhance the benefits of application classes.

Whether it is problem-based learning, team-based learning or various flipped classroom models, it is useful to end the class by consolidating learning, reinforcing pertinent knowledge or skills and acknowledging students’ active contributions.

2. Motivate students to complete pre-class work

When in-class activities are designed such that expectations for pre-class work are defined clearly, students are less likely to come to class unprepared. Quizzes are often implemented to ensure that students are accountable to their learning and to motivate them to complete their pre-class readings. However, it is not uncommon nowadays to hear students complaining of “test fatigue” because more and more courses are adopting flipped classroom methods and each course instructor wants to ensure that materials and videos are viewed before class. 

Although it might be difficult to coordinate student workload across courses, it could be useful for educators to reflect on and prioritise what contents it is really necessary to test on. Must each week’s class be flipped? Can pre-class readings be divided into “must-know” and “good-to-know” segments? Besides quizzes, pre-class group activities can be another way to motivate students to complete their pre-class readings. Educators might also want to provide a forum for students to share self-management and time-management strategies that have worked for them or use digital badges to reward task accomplishments.

3. Extend deep learning beyond classes

The purpose of the flipped classroom is to enable precious classroom time to be devoted to collaborative problem solving or real-world application of knowledge. However, deep learning can seldom take place fully within one class. Opportunities for students to reflect and receive feedback in between classes will help them internalise and consolidate learning over weeks of flipped classrooms.

A project that encourages further application of knowledge can serve this purpose. In my case, I use application classes during team-based learning in which students work in teams to set treatment plans for patients with different psychiatric conditions. After the class, students who wish to further refine their treatment plans can upload their work to the online learning-management system for further feedback. Since this is a non-graded piece of work, it enables students to work on their clinical reasoning and horizontally integrate their learning across courses without the anxiety of being evaluated. This also helps weaker students to improve at their own pace while still being involved in team-based discussions during class. I find that when students feel they can keep on top of things during in-class activities, they will feel more motivated to do their pre-class work for the following week.

In summary, well-planned in-class activities, coupled with nicely designed bitesize pre-class materials, as well as opportunities for post-class reflections, are key ways to facilitate positive learning experiences with flipped classrooms.

Tan Bhing Leet is an associate professor and cluster director, health and social sciences at Singapore Institute of Technology.

If you would like advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the THE Campus newsletter.


You may also like

sticky sign up

Register for free

and unlock a host of features on the THE site