The Cost of Asking the Wrong Questions About Flipped Learning

Higher Ed May / May 11, 2018

– by George Hess –

There’s no question that Flipped Learning is one of the hottest trends in education. And there’s no doubt in the mind of any teacher who has flipped their class that it works. But if Flipped Learning is not to be just another educational fad, we have to go beyond “knowing” and have actual proof. That’s where research comes in.

The number of teachers using Flipped Learning has been growing for over a decade. While research has been increasing, there is still a need for much more.  So it’s always welcome to see an organization like the National Science Foundation fund a study on Flipped Learning to the tune of close to a half million dollars.

The study, by a team of researchers from the University of Missouri, will look at the practices of 20 Missouri public school algebra teachers who have been flipping their classes and compare them to 20 other teachers who teach in more traditional ways. The primary questions they will examine are how the teachers are implementing Flipped Learning and whether any improvement on standardized tests can be attributed to it.

The researchers also say they hope the study will provide the basis for further design research in developing flipped materials for math and for the development of a framework for flipped instruction. Ultimately they are looking to cultivate a better understanding of the relationship between Flipped Learning and student learning and to help educators identify methods that improve learning outcomes.

These are ambitious goals for such a small study.

While the researchers are to be congratulated on obtaining such a significant grant, after reading the abstract and some of their comments, there are some questions.

It’s essential that the researchers be aware of best practices when comparing the effectiveness of pedagogical models, but it would appear that the researchers are not apprised of the progress in the theory and practice of Flipped Learning as represented by Flipped Learning 3.0. The narrow scope of the study suggests they don’t realize Flipped Learning is a global movement. Researching the practices of 20 random local teachers doesn’t ensure that they will be observing best practices and, in fact, the comments of one media specialist in the region suggest that Flipped Learning 3.0 has not yet reached Missouri.

Of greater concern is that here we have yet another study that attempts to evaluate a new methodology by how well it achieves outdated goals. The use of standardized tests as a means to measure the effect of pedagogical approaches has unfortunately become accepted in educational research. However, these tests only are designed to measure the recall and processing of information. Granted, the current misuse of these tests has made them of prime importance for many teachers and students. But recalling and processing information are not the only things students need be able to do, nor is it even the most important in the 21st century.

Countries like Singapore and Finland, whose students have consistently achieved top scores, have recognized that that’s not enough and now are looking at all sorts of methodologies designed to educate the whole child. We need to identify a skill set to prepare students to function in the 21st century and be researching how to help them develop it. It’s safe to say the ability to do well on a standardized test is but a very small part of that set.

We are in need of high-quality research in the efficacy of Flipped Learning, but it’s essential that we’d be looking at best practices and what Flipped Learning contributes beyond the test. Studies that focus on creativity, collaboration, connectivity, and other essential skills for the 21st century are sorely needed. Studies like the U of M study will likely produce some useful information, but by no means will it be the basis for a model for all Flipped Learning.

And one more thing: that the NSF funded a study that doesn’t appear to be based on best practices suggests they need to do some homework. But even more important, it shows those of us who support, promote, and practice Flipped Learning that we still have work to do. Flipped Learning is still not clearly understood. Many people still think of it as just watching videos. Hopefully, this study will help to dispel some of that, but in the meantime, we need to do our part as well.



George Hess
Dr. George Hess
Dr. Hess is currently Associate Professor of Music at Sunway University in Malaysia. Previously, he was on the faculty at the National University of Singapore, Central Michigan University, Alabama State University and the University of Northern Colorado. He holds degrees from the Berklee College of Music and the University of Northern Colorado. George is a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty. George is an educator, guitarist, composer and author. An award-winning teacher, he has taught music technology, jazz and theory at leading universities for over 25 years.

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