When Your Students Aren’t Ready to Learn

Lead Features June / Uncategorized / June 15, 2018

-by Deborah Rassmusen-

I was one of those teachers who gave in, and I’ve regretted it ever since!  I redesigned an entire semester’s worth of content when I converted a successful course to a flipped approach (or what I thought was a flipped approach).  I discovered within just a few classes that I hadn’t prepared the students well for the change, nor myself for the resistance I would experience. I didn’t have a backup plan and was already drowning in the amount of work I placed on myself because of my own novice design. You guessed it– I overreacted and quickly reverted back to what we were all more familiar with: a typical lecture class with a scaffolded project assignment. My grand plans for the semester were dashed, and we never recovered the sense of community that I’ve valued in other learning situations.

Now when I meet with educators interested in the flipped approach, it’s one of the first challenges we discuss. This semester I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of facilitating a new Flipped Learning Community of Practice at my institution and this was a topic we explored during our third session together. Before we met for our meeting, I asked participants to choose one of two questions they would like to explore individually or in groups:

  • How do I get students to do the work before class?
  • What do I do if they don’t?

I also participated in the activity and revisited some resources I had found over the years. I was reminded of how much overlap there is between the proactive perspective (how to get them to do the work) and the reactive perspective (what to do if they don’t). The two questions go hand in hand and it’s difficult to discuss one without the other. I found many similar viewpoints on my quest until the topic of motivation arose. It seemed a line was drawn in the sand and there were strong opinions on either side! In one corner, are the teachers who believe that external rewards, such as points or grades, are needed to motivate students to do the work. In the other corner, are those who believe that assigning points for pre-class work undermines intrinsic motivation.

Somewhere along my own quest, I realized that it might be easier to summarize poignant themes through an illustration:

Proactive: How do I get them to do the work before class?

Reactive: What do I do during class if they don’t do the pre-class work?

Whatever approach you take, I encourage you to stand fast! Don’t give in to what you are more familiar with or fall back to lecture! If you do, you’ll find it reinforces passive learning and undermines your authority.

Remember that for many students this is still a relatively new instructional approach, and it will take time for them to adjust. Student resistance is not just a Flipped Learning phenomena, but a common finding in learner-centered pedagogy noted by Maryellen Weimer. Chapter seven in Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice helps us deal with the fact that “almost all students will resist their teacher’s learning-centered approaches” (Peirce). Phasing-in and gradually working up to a complete flip is helpful for some groups of students. For others, a supportive environment with clear expectations and guidance is enough. Either way, don’t assume that your students will know how to learn from an instructional video or intuitively know how you wish them to engage before class. Provide them with instructions and take the time to teach them how. During class, be supportive of fragile group nuances especially at the start of the semester and be frank with discussions if students aren’t following through with your expectations. 

What would you add to this collection? What resources have you found helpful? I would love to hear your own stories about preparing students or dealing with their resistance in the comments below.

Until next time, remain persistent and keep flipping!


Bergmann, J. (2017, December 2). What if they don’t watch the video? Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6liIuPjxCk

Edutopia. (2014, November 4). The flipped class: Overcoming common hurdles. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwvXFlLQClU

Forsythe, E. (2017). Pedagogical Rationale for Flipped Learning and Digital Technology in Second Language Acquisition. In I. Management Association (Ed.), Flipped Instruction: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice (pp. 116-130). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. https://www.igi-global.com/chapter/pedagogical-rationale-for-flipped-learning-and-digital-technology-in-second-language-acquisition/174701

Francis, C. A. (2017). Student Rates of Outside Preparation before Class Discussion of New Course Topics: A Case Study of a Flipped Classroom. In I. Management Association (Ed.), Flipped Instruction: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice (pp. 1-14). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. https://www.igi-global.com/chapter/student-rates-of-outside-preparation-before-class-discussion-of-new-course-topics/174694

Honeycutt, B. (2016, January 26). Ready to flip: Three ways to hold students accountable for pre-class work. Retrieved from: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/blended-flipped-learning/ready-to-flip-three-ways-to-hold-students-accountable-for-pre-class-work/

Honeycutt, B. (2016, April 4). Five ways to motivate unprepared students in the flipped classroom. Retrieved from: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/blended-flipped-learning/five-ways-to-motivate-unprepared-students-in-the-flipped-classroom/

Honeycutt, B. (2016). The flipped classroom: Strategies to overcome student resistance and increase student engagement. Magna Publications Inc. https://www.magnapubs.com/online-seminars/flipped-classroom-strategies-14199-1.html

Indiana University: Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (n.d). Holding Students Accountable. Retrieved from: https://citl.indiana.edu/teaching-resources/teaching-strategies/holding-students-accountable/

Karanicolas, S., Loveys, B., Riggs, K., McGrice, H., Snelling, C., Winning, T. & Kemp, A. (2016). The Rise of the Flip. Successfully engaging students in pre-class activities through the use of technology and a flipped classroom design schema. In S. Barker, S. Dawson, A. Pardo, & C. Colvin (Eds.), Show Me The Learning. Proceedings ASCILITE 2016 Adelaide (pp. 312-317). http://2016conference.ascilite.org/wp-content/uploads/ascilite2016_karanicolas_concise.pdf

Kuntz, A. (2016, October 17). Strategies for Implementing a Flipped Classroom Approach. Retrieved from: https://sites.psu.edu/hybridlearning/2016/10/17/strategies-for-implementing-a-flipped-classroom-approach/

Peirce, B. (n.d). Review and summary of learner-centered teaching by Maryellen Weimer. Retrieved from http://academic.pg.cc.md.us/~wpeirce/MCCCTR/weimer.htm

Schell, J. (2012, April 20). How do I get my students to prepare before coming to a flipped class? Retrieved from: https://blog.peerinstruction.net/2012/04/20/how-do-i-get-my-students-to-prepare-before-coming-to-a-flipped-class/ 

Schell, J. (2013, June 20). Two magical tools to get your students to do and learn from pre-class work in a flipped classroom. Retrieved from: https://blog.peerinstruction.net/2013/06/20/two-magical-tools-to-get-your-students-to-do-and-learn-from-pre-class-work-in-a-flipped-classroom/

Talbert, R. (2017). Flipped Learning: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty, Stylus Publications http://rtalbert.org/book/

Talbert, R. (2018, March 12). Research to practice: How do we get students to complete pre-class work? http://rtalbert.org/how-to-get-students-to-do-preclass-work/


Deborah Rasmussen
Deborah Rasmussen
I discovered a track for Educational Technology that included Instructional Design and completed my master’s degree in 2013 from Purdue University. Since that time, I’ve transitioned to higher education and have experience teaching as an adjunct for a graduate level course, re-designing the curriculum to include authentic project portfolios and a flipped component. I currently work as a Digital Learning Consultant at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, supporting innovative explorations to enhance the face to face learning experience. Over the past 4 years, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with staff and faculty from multiple disciplines, supporting the integration of technology through one to one consultations, workshops, innovative technology grants, and enterprise-level initiatives. My specialty focus has evolved over the years and now includes blended learning, instructional design, and flipped learning. In an effort to break down silos and share challenges and best practices, I currently facilitate a new multidisciplinary Community of Practice for Flipped Learning.

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1 Comment

on June 27, 2018

Deborah, I appreciate your willingness to share something that didn’t go well. And yes,it is scary and it is so easy to revert back to what is comfortable and what will work right away. I liked the diagrams you provided as they make it easy to follow and they give readers an if-then option.

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