Flipped Learning: technological tool or pedagogical solution.

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Is flipped learning a technological tool or a pedagogical framework? The answer lies in which definition is used. A fairly common explanation of the flipped classroom involves using video to deliver lectures or direct instruction outside of class and utilizing class time for what was formerly assigned as homework. Another definition, recently released by the Flipped Learning Network, states that “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.”

The first definition describes a teaching tool in which basic content delivery is conducted through video, which is obviously a technological solution. Whereas the second definition describes a situation in which lower order thinking is removed from whole-class teaching time and placed upon the individual regardless of whether video or any other technologies are being used. Broadly speaking, the first definition is what comes to mind when most people hear “flipped” instruction. However, pedagogically speaking, the second definition both accurately describes the first definition while being no different than a teacher in a one-room-schoolhouse in 1850 assigning a reading assignment that will be discussed the next day in class. Essentially, the same pedagogy is being employed through a different medium. Initial exposure to a subject, text, or concept is given to students prior to attending class; the topic or skill is explored, developed or applied during the class time. Essentially, the low order cognitive tasks are delivered to an individual outside of class while class time is used to develop higher order cognitive skills under the direct guidance of the teacher in class. In doing so the learners have the opportunity to reach a level of understanding that allows of personalization and individualization of content.

So, what is all the hype about around flipped learning? Read an article or blog post about the flipped classroom, and you will be met with the author’s personal explanation of what a flipped classroom is or is not. But how specific does a definition need to be to delineate a flipped classroom from any other classroom? And beyond that question, what sets apart these various definitions from just plain good teaching practice? Additionally, who gets to decide whether or not a class is truly flipped or not? And what is the real difference between Blended Learning, Flipped Learning, Flipped Classrooms, and Inverted Classrooms? A pedagogical answer to these questions is that it really doesn’t matter, and getting distracted by semantics will only come at the cost of quality learning opportunities for students.

So, where does this leave flipped learning? Flipped learning applies tried and true pedagogy of pre-training while leveraging new forms of media and new ways to distribute the media: old methodologies with new technologies. And regardless of whether a class is flipped or not, high tech or low tech, good teaching happens at the convergence of content, curiosity, and relationships. All three components of content, curiosity, and relationships are essential to healthy learning environments, but none can be over emphasized at the expense of the others. Content is important in that it is the structure upon which learning is built. Understanding the details of the world in which a learner lives allows the learner to the ability to shape and manipulate that world to his advantage. Content mastery must be accompanied by healthy relationships in a learning community that fosters curiosity within learners. Focusing only upon content can lead to a cold, rote learning environments; spending all our energies on relationships can be done at the expense of content mastery; and developing curious learners without strong relationships can lead to learning in isolation.

Essentially, the flipped learning approach allows teachers to spark interest, provide initial exposure, and deliver content through easy to make teacher created video so class time can be used to foster healthy relationships and engage students in higher levels of cognition to help ignite curiosity. Simply using video as a teaching tool will not fundamentally change a classroom. But rethinking how class time can be used for things other than direct instruction and lectures will transform a classroom from a teacher-centered instructional environment to a learner-centered laboratory of learning. Flipped learning is a transitional tool for teachers who know they want to move the attention away from themselves and on to student-centered learning. Flipped learning is not an end, but a means to greater teaching and deeper learning.

You can read more about Flipped Learning in our upcoming book: Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Achievement which can be pre-ordered here:

Jonathan Bergmann & Aaron Sams

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