More and more schools and colleges are experimenting with the flipped classroom, which offers a whole new approach to teaching. Students are encouraged to take a more active role in their learning, become more accountable and develop new skills, whilst teachers have new opportunities to innovate by varying and personalising their teaching.

Originally published on 12 June 2013, updated on 21 April 2015

From junior secondary school through to university, the flipped classroom has become increasingly popular in the past few years. As a professor from the Université Catholique de Louvain explains: "Flipped classrooms combine skill building, active learning and digital tools, which are fully integrated into the classwork. Together, these three elements explain the classrooms' success."

Traditional classroom vs. flipped classroom?

Traditional teaching methods are based on knowledge passed on by teachers during lessons and to largely passive students. Any practical exercises are typically done outside class time, at home, and often without supervision.

In the flipped classroom this model is turned upside down, with students playing a more active role in the learning process. Instead of attending classes in the usual way, students attend classes online outside normal class time and thus learn at their own pace and conduct any additional research themselves, either alone or with classmates. Meanwhile, the “homework” or practical exercises are done in class, with active, personalised support from the teacher, and group discussions and activities.

This means that students can prepare for lessons, provided that the preparation work can be checked via an interactive questionnaire or by drafting a report, (e.g. multimedia), says David Bouchillon, a geography and history teacher from the South-west of France. That way, teachers can build on the students’ homework in class by combining them, introducing collaborative methods, and ensuring effective monitoring of the learning process. Jean-Charles Cailliez from the Université de Louvain explains: "It's a different way of imparting knowledge. In flipped classrooms, students develop the knowledge themselves. Teachers spend more time going over concepts and ensuring that the coursework has been done and the skills mastered."

The advantages of the flipped classroom

First introduced back in the early nineties by a Harvard professor, the concept – then known as “Peer Instruction’’– has come a long way since, largely thanks to the advent of digital technologies.

Teachers who have already experimented with the flipped classroom have noted a number of advantages, such as:

  • More personalised support and coaching from the teacher
  • Greater empowerment for students: they can learn at their own pace, even when absent from class, thanks to access to teaching resources anytime, anywhere. They can stop the lessons whenever they want, watch them as many times as they need, etc.
  • Greater parental involvement: parents also have access to the resources provided by the teacher, which ensures greater transparency between parents and teachers.
  • Greater cooperation between students.

American online teaching specialist Knewton published an infographic (below) of the methods and results of a flipped classroom experiment at a school in Michigan.

©Knewton

Flipped classroom: what the detractors say

Among the criticisms that have been levelled at this method, the most common are that students spend even more time glued to a screen and have too much homework; the problem of the digital divide (students with lower incomes don’t have as much access to technology), and the fact that students will be exposed to yet more advertising, as video-hosting sites typically make users watch an advert before watching a video.

An article in Forbes magazine (What Is the Flipped Classroom and Why Is It Amazing?) lists these criticisms – and subsequently tears them down, thus opening a thought-provoking debate about both ICT and teaching.