It’s a New Decade: Time for a Flipped Learning Reality Check

Higher Ed January 20 / January 28, 2020

 – Thomas Mennella –

Late last year, in 2019, I attended a national conference focused on higher education. Though I was presenting on growth and fixed mindsets and their impacts on learning, I scoured the conference program for talks on my favorite subject: Flipped Learning. Surprisingly, I found only one, a poster. I couldn’t believe it. Merely months before, a conference like this would be teeming with talks on all things flipped. What was going on?

As I attended different sessions of that conference, Flipped Learning was mentioned a lot. “Oh, and I also flip.” “My classes are flipped.” “As a side note, I use Flipped Learning.”

More recently, just a week ago, as I write this, I was at another regional conference, and, as an aside, the speaker mentioned, “… and I flip a bit.” What does that mean? “I flip a bit”?

The myth

It was then that this all came into focus for me. Flipped Learning, at least in higher education, is ubiquitous. It sounds like it’s time to celebrate. We’ve done it! Mission accomplished. FLGI can close up shop; we’re not needed anymore. Everyone has heard of flipped learning, and from the sound of it, everyone uses it (or so they think). Not so fast.

What has come into focus for me as we launch into 2020 is that, yes, Flipped Learning is ubiquitous in higher education and, yes, everyone has heard of it. But not everyone who claims to be flipping really is. I’m not accusing anyone of lying; I believe that they believe they’re using Flipped Learning, but it’s not best practices. Here’s what Flipped Learning isn’t:

    • It isn’t making a few review videos for your students to occasionally watch at home
    • It isn’t using YouTube or Khan Academy as homework and then lecturing on that same material in class
    • It isn’t doubling your course content by now lecturing both as homework and in the classroom
    • And, it isn’t active learning        

The reality

Many times, I’ve heard higher education instructors use active learning and flipped learning as synonyms, and this is not accurate. While active learning plays a major role in Flipped Learning, the two are not the same thing.

Flipped Learning is a framework that enables educators to reach every student. The Flipped approach inverts the traditional classroom model by introducing course concepts before class, allowing educators to use class time to guide each student through active, practical, innovative applications of the course principles.

Flipped Learning is students’ first engagement with course content occurring at home before class meets. This work comes with accountability to ensure that all students complete it. Upon arriving to class – already briefed on the material – students are given activities that enhance, refortify and contextualize that material (often through active learning). Flipped Learning has best practices and global elements of effectiveness. Flipped Learning is a discrete, codified and defined thing. And, many in higher education are not using it.

Enlightening ignorance and spreading new knowledge is hard work. But what’s harder is changing preconceptions. It’s one thing to explain something new to a person; it’s another thing entirely to explain to them that they’re wrong. As we head into 2020, we (FLGI, FLR and you – the broader community of Flipped Learning practitioners) have our work cut out for us. We need to change preconceptions. We need to teach, explain and model what Flipped Learning is and boldly, candidly and radically show others what Flipped Learning is not.

The urgency of a new year

Never have I felt such urgency around Flipped Learning and, quite frankly, never have I been so concerned. This is a critical year, I believe. In 2020, the course of Flipped Learning will either be corrected and best practices will become common practices, or Flipped Learning will continue to be falsely claimed by the many who are incorrectly implementing it and thus appear to yield diminishing returns. We cannot allow the latter to happen. Too many students stand to benefit from the amazing learning opportunities that Flipped Learning offers. Too many learners stand to have their educational needs met by instructors who now have the time to meet them. And, too many young people stand to build lasting and meaningful relationships with instructors who become coaches, mentors, and friends. Flipped Learning is the ‘magic bullet,’ it is the ‘secret sauce.’ We cannot let it slip away into mediocrity. The time is now, the year is now, to showcase for the educational world everything that Flipped Learning truly is, and everything that it is not.  

Thomas Mennella
Dr. Thomas Mennella Mennella
I have been an instructor in higher education for over ten years. Starting as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and then moving on to an Assistant Professorship at Delaware State University (DSU), a small public university, I experimented with Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and was an early-adopter of the iClicker student response system. Now an Associate Professor at Bay Path University, a private liberal arts institution in western Massachusetts, I primarily teach Genetics, Cell and Molecular Biology. I am Flipped Learning 3.0 Level -II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.

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