Addressing the concerns about flipped learning

Simon Hennessy

English expert at Atomi


min read

Any change to the established order of educational norms is bound to elicit mixed emotions. Flipped learning is no exception. Certain pockets of the community extol the virtues of the practice, while others grind their teeth and turn up their nose. Most are simply curious as to what it might mean for the future of classrooms.

Flipped learning is a relatively new phenomenon, and few would argue that figuring out the best way to adopt it into the classroom is completely straightforward and one size fits all. However, the potential benefits are there to see.

Research into flipped learning cited by Panopto indicates that a sample of US schools who implemented flipped learning saw a 71 percent increase in test scores, and an 80 percent improvement in student attitudes. Value for students is there to be gleaned.

As such, wherever one falls on the spectrum, a dive into the major concerns surrounding flipped learning, and the best way to address these concerns, is a worthwhile exercise.

What exactly is flipped learning?

First of all, let’s refresh our minds on exactly what we mean by flipped learning. A type of blended learning, a flipped classroom is one where the traditional setup - content delivered in the classroom, activities tackled in homework - is reversed, or “flipped”. Students consume instructional content at home, and classroom time is used to engage in activities.

The rationale behind the flipped classroom is rather succinctly surmised by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post:

“The philosophy behind the flip is that teachers can spend time working with students who need their help in the classroom — and students can work together to solve problems — rather than sitting home alone with work they might not understand and with nobody to ask for help.”

Most would accept the assertion that the teacher and classroom are the most valuable resources available to a student, and that engaging in activities is the most useful side of the learning equation. Flipped learning pairs these factors to create, in theory, the ideal learning environment.

The use of technology

The first concern for many is just how exactly the flip can be facilitated. Introducing an e-learning platform is the most obvious answer, where content is consumed online by students. However, this step begets other questions: how technologically proficient are my students? Is the content best packaged as video or text? Just how much should I be asking to be consumed at a time?

There is no one magic solution here. Instead, the solution is much the same as in approaching any particular style of learning - taking the time to figure out what works best for you and for your students. However, it is not an exercise that needs to be undertaken blind; researching how e-learning has been adopted elsewhere and what the effects were will flesh out the picture for what works best for you.

Break it into steps. In a two part-series, Susannah Holz outlines how asking some key questions - who are my audience? What do I want to achieve? - then assessing different instructional models will lead to the building of the ideal e-learning model for you and your classroom.

Delving into the world of online content delivery can be daunting if undertaken afresh, but it is not the murky and complex science many think it is. Taking the time for thorough research and preparation, in order to select the right platform and know how best to use it, is very much doable, and will work wonders for the success of your flipped classroom.

The non-use of technology

There is, of course, a caveat to the above. By now, a significant number of teachers can confidently say their students have home access to online resources, and the number continues to grow. Yet this is not the reality for all, making the use of online resources, for some, an impossibility.

But while e-learning is the most obvious answer to the content consumption end of the flipped learning system, it is not the only one. Students have been consuming content via more analog methods - textbooks, classroom handouts - since time immemorial. Digesting content in this format may have previously been confined to the classroom, but there is little to preclude its use for the same purpose in the home environment.

Flipped learning may be a modern innovation, and it naturally pairs with modern resources, but is not reliant upon them. If e-learning is not, for whatever reason, a possibility, the ongoing existence of physical learning resources ensures that flipped learning very much still is.

What happens to exams?

The knock-on effects of flipped learning for other areas of the classroom structure are a frequent concern. However, they need not be severe. When it comes to the area of grading and examinations, the extent of the implications of flipped learning on their setup really is up to the teacher.

Exams, quizzes, mid-term tests - a flipped learning model need not interfere with the setup of these at all. Graded assignments are a slightly different story, as under a flipped learning model these would still be undertaken on class time. In that scenario, it is at the discretion of the teacher as to what extent they would treat them as de facto class exams, or interactive activities that fall under the remit of the flipped learning, classroom activity structure, where teachers act as guides through a particular task.

Whether or not a teacher decides they would rather maintain the individual element of graded assignments by having students tackle them alone, or introduce collaboration with either herself or the other students, the headline is that she has either option available to her. Autonomy in a flipped classroom over the process of grading, and graded assignments, remains firmly within the teacher’s hands.

Student accountability

A stick with which to beat flipped learning by naysayers is the door it supposedly opens to students with no desire to engage. There are those, the argument runs, who simply cannot be trusted to undertake the self directed learning on their own time dictated by the flipped learning model. Yet to my thinking, the opposite is in fact the case - flipped learning, rather than increasing the risk of coasting, minimises it.

Students can neglect their responsibility to consume content they have been assigned while at home. This is an undeniable possibility. But is no more and no less a possibility than students neglecting their responsibility to complete the homework assigned to them under a traditional classroom model. The key difference is the classroom.

It logically stands to reason that student who wishes to coast will find doing so more difficult in the classroom in the presence of their teacher. But in the traditional classroom structure, when faced with a content-delivering “sage on the stage”, passivity and non-engagement are not inconceivable outcomes.

Contrast this with the student faced with a “guide on the side” teacher in a flipped classroom, actively monitoring their progress through a specific task. Such a student would find the avoidance of engagement significantly more difficult when not only being asked to complete an activity, but being asked to do so with the involved presence of their teacher nearby.

The argument - that self directed learning asks too much of students who wish to coast - can be just as equally levelled at students of the traditional classroom structure concerning their homework. The key difference is that, with engagement unavoidable in a flipped classroom, the opportunity to coast is significantly decreased by the combination of classroom activities and a dynamic, involved teacher.

An innovation worth the risk

Flipped learning is not the answer to each and every concern that an educator may have for their students, and it is an undertaking that requires real research and preparation in order to succeed. Yet its flexibility in terms of the use or non-use of technology, its limited and controlled effect on examinations and assessments, and its propensity to actually decrease the chances of student disengagement should go a long way towards dissuading fears over just how useful a technique it could be. The risks are minimal and the rewards potentially great, making flipped learning a worthwhile endeavour for any teacher looking to add new value to their students’ education.


The Top 10 Questions Parents Have About The Flipped Classroom — And How to Answer Them, Panopto, 2017

Strauss, V. (2012), The flip: Turning a classroom upside down, The Washington Post

Holz, S. (2017), How to turn your face-to-face class into an online course [Part 1], Neo Blog

Holz, S. (2017), How to turn your face-to-face class into an online course [Part 2], Neo Blog

Morrison, C. (2014), From ‘Sage on the Stage’ to ‘Guide on the Side’: A Good Start, International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Published on

September 24, 2019

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