Flipped learning benefits ‘easy to replicate in normal classroom’

Improvements to students’ grades usually down to spending more time on tasks rather than ‘active learning’, says landmark study

October 25, 2022
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Many of the purported benefits of “flipped” learning stem from repetition or increased exposure to content and could easily be replicated in a regular classroom, according to a landmark analysis.

The study, published in Frontiers in Educationfound the basis for the central claim made by advocates of the flipped approach – that it improves attainment by allowing students to learn basic content online prior to class so face-to-face time is freed up for more active and participatory learning – is “weak”, especially because pedagogies are typically not being implemented as envisaged.

“We found active learning is rarely present and when it is, it doesn’t have an effect,” the study’s lead author Manu Kapur, professor of learning sciences and higher education at ETH Zurich, said.

The researchers were the first to code the nature of different interventions used in flipped learning programmes, as described in thousands of published studies, and found “passive” approaches still dominated with academics – for example, asking students to review PowerPoint slides in advance and then repeating the content in a face-to-face lecture.

Where studies had identified an impact on student grades from flipped learning, “the effects were coming from increased time on task”, Professor Kapur said.

“Increased exposure to content was probably the reason, not underlying arguments about active learning.”

Given flipped classes require far more time and energy to prepare and teach, “You can ask, why go to these great lengths to flip when you can just achieve this in a regular classroom?” Professor Kapur said.

His study found that when active learning was built in to traditional teaching methods, the effects of flipped learning “vanished”.

“The moral of the story was, just teach better in a regular classroom”, Professor Kapur said. “Don’t interpret the effect of flipped learning without looking at how it was implemented. That is the scepticism we want to convey.”

Professor Kapur – and co-authors John Hattie, Irina Grossman and Tanmay Sinha – recognise that flipped learning is “here to stay” but call for administrators and professors to pay more attention to course design, rather than mode of teaching.

“We hope this paper will put more focus on how exactly you design these environments – what do you start with, how do you deliver content, how do you build on it. We don’t want people to think ‘I’m going to put some content online and hope the magic will work,’” Professor Kapur said.

A way to make flipped courses work better, Professor Kapur suggested, would be to learn from his past research on “productive failure”, which posits that learning should start with problem-solving activities that activate existing knowledge, followed by instruction or content and then a period where learning is consolidated. This “optimum learning pathway” could be implemented successfully in either a regular classroom or hybrid environment, he said.

Reacting to the study, Susan Orr, the pro vice-chancellor for education at De Montfort University who recently completed a review of blended learning for the Office for Students, said flipped learning was “in danger of becoming a ubiquitous term that is used without a careful consideration of basic course design and pedagogy”.

She said good teaching was “not modality specific” and “flipped learning may offer poor learning contexts for students, and this is also the case in relation to traditional teaching methods” – particularly because they can both be as variable as each other.

Simon Thomson, professor of hybrid learning at the University of Manchester, said flipped learning studies had tended to measure the success of the technique by assessing the extent to which the students improved their grades. He said this neglected the other “experiential benefits” to flipped learning, noting that, when it had been introduced at Manchester students had become more successful independent learners.

He added that the context within which flipped learning takes place was also important, for example, if learning resources and activities have been adjusted with flipped learning in mind or whether an undergraduate is taking many courses that are flipped or just one in isolation.

Jo-Anne Murray, pro vice-chancellor for digital transformation at the University of Leeds, said the study showed what a particular teaching practice is called “matters much less than the sequence of activities and the quality of their implementation”.

This means that “strong educator professional development programmes and departmental cultures that value collaboration and peer support will help determine effectiveness”, she said.



Print headline: ‘Flipped’ learning hinges on timing

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Reader's comments (5)

Flipping your classroom works only if students are well-organised and diligent about not just skimming material prior to class but actually dig in and study it in depth.
I am sorry to contradict Manu Kapur. I have studied economics at Bonn University (which is said to be the best in Germany), the teaching was nearly completely frontally (FCR). During the next years, I experienced inverted classroom learning at Stanford and inverted classroom teaching at UBC in Vancouver (ICR). My experience clearly says: The ICR model allows a definitely higher level of teaching and learning quality in comparison to FCR. Of course, this quality does not fall from the sky but has to be produced by both, the teachers and the learners. Dieter Timmermann, Bielefeld University
What is meant here by active learning? Isn’t all learning active? How can anyone learn anything without being mentally active? I never really understood what was new and different about so-called flipped classes for that matter. The explanation of flipped describes the method I’ve used for 30 years.
Thanks a lot for this very interesting piece of paper! As a promoter of flipped classroom myself, I could not agree more that it is first and foremost a question of course design (and delivery of course) than a pure question of "flipped or not flipped" :)
Been teaching flipped since 2013. We cannot see large effect size differences between blended and flipped classrooms. But when we did pre-class learning via adaptive lessons, things became more pronounceable for flipped classes. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C10&q=kaw+clark+adaptive+learning&btnG= I did not understand what was meant by "not active learning" What is and isnt wasnt clear from the paper. Moreover, if one is going to use the "productive failure" route, wont everyone fail if the concept is new. How can someone know, say Gauss Quadarture rule, if they have not seen it yet. That is recipe for frustration. Now if want to build them toward it by testing and reviewing prior knowledge, that is different.


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