What is the Flipped Learning Approach?

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There are lots of different teaching methods used in school and universities across the UK. As a student, you might not know the names of the whole range of approaches teachers use – but it’s still likely that you will be familiar with how they work. You might be used to lessons that follow a general format, with PowerPoint slides and explanations by the teachers, then some consolidation and discussion.

While it’s never your favourite part, there’s then often homework set. Whether it’s a worksheet or a project, you work on this in your own time to solidify the teaching from lessons. However, you may have heard about an alternative teaching style called flipped learning. What exactly is this? How does it differ to the normal process?

Most students are familiar with being taught content in lessons, then consolidating it through homework activities. Flipped learning, as the name suggests, is the opposite of this. In this method, students study and learn the content independently as preparation for a lesson. You then spend lessons doing consolidation activities, discussion, and exploring the subject in more depth.

Whether you have experienced flipped learning yourself, or have never heard of the term before – this article has plenty of information about how it works, as well as who uses it, and some of the pros and cons.

What is flipped learning?

Flipped learning is a teaching method where students learn content in their own time as preparation for a lesson, which is then spent on discussion and problem-solving activities related to the topic.

It’s called flipped learning because this is the opposite way around to what you might expect. Normally, you are taught content by teachers in lessons (or another type of class like a lecture), then set consolidation activities to do in your own time.

However, the idea behind flipped learning is that, by coming to lessons already with knowledge about the topic, the class itself can then be used to really deepen your understanding. This is done through active learning methods, engaging with your peers in teacher-led discussion of the subject, which you wouldn’t get with a piece of homework.

Lesson time can also be used to allow students to ask questions about the material they’ve studied themselves. Flipped learning doesn’t necessarily mean you have to understand new, difficult concepts by yourself all the time!

It still involves lessons with a teacher. However, this way, they spend more time talking with their students about the topic, rather than talking at them when teaching from a PowerPoint.

If you want more information about what exactly flipped learning is, you can check out this article from FutureLearn.

Who uses flipped learning?

Whether or not you think flipped learning sounds like a good idea, most students in the UK will still experience the traditional format of learning. So, where and how is flipped learning actually being used?

There isn’t a particular category of schools, subjects or areas which use flipped learning. Instead, it’s largely up to individual organisations and teachers about whether they want to try this approach.

The idea was originally implemented in American high schools and universities, but the idea has since spread to the UK. It’s mostly used for older secondary school students and university-level, because younger students are less suited to independent learning.

This article from AdvanceHE talks about some of the places where flipped learning has been used in the UK. For example, the University of Manchester used this approach in some social science and computer science modules. A video is set to watch before a class, which is then used for problem-based activities.

What are the advantages of flipped learning?

So, now we know what flipped learning is, you may be wondering whether it is better or worse than the normal teaching approach. You might expect that there aren’t many advantages to this style of teaching, or it would be more common.

However, there are actually several advantages to this less common way of teaching. Keep reading for more!

1. Flipped learning gives students more control over how they learn

In a classroom, the methods and pace of learning are very much directed by the teacher. However, in independent flipped learning, the student gets a bit more control of this.

If needed, they can pause whatever they are watching or reading if they need more time to understand a particular section. Equally, they don’t have to spend extra time on things they are already confident with.

Students can also decide, to some extent, how they are going to learn. Everyone has different learning styles. Some might like to watch a video and make notes, while others may prefer to learn via active recall by using flashcards.

Essentially, flipped learning allows students to tailor their own education to the way they learn best, rather than what works for a class as a whole.

2. Lessons can be used for more interactive work

Active learning in the classroom is arguably the most important part of flipped learning. Traditionally, a significant part of lessons involves listening or reading information, which are more passive activities.

On the other hand, if you come to the lesson having learned the topic’s content, you are ready to participate in more active learning. For instance, this may be group reflection, with a teacher asking questions that make you think deeper about the subject and really cement your understanding.

3. Flipped learning teaches key digital and learning skills

In a lot of cases, the pre-learning involved in flipped learning will involve using technology. In an increasing digital world, where so much is available online, you could argue that it’s important to learn how to best use these resources.

Additionally, independent learning is a key skill to have, whether or not it involves computers. As you get older and study at university or postgraduate level, you will have to organise more of your own workload. Flipped learning helps to develop these skills.

What are the disadvantages of flipped learning?

Of course, there are pros and cons to everything, and it’s hard to decide whether the benefits balance out the disadvantages. While flipped learning may sound like a great idea, and clearly has lots of advantages, there are a few reasons why it might not beat the more traditional teaching styles. Keep reading for more!

1. Flipped learning relies on the use of technology

We’ve talked about the use of technology in flipped learning as an advantage, by teaching digital learning skills. However, this can also be a disadvantage.

Not everyone has equal access to technology. Ideally, students been taught by flipped learning should have individual laptops or computers, as well as a reliable Wi-Fi connection.

Students who don’t have access to these could be at a disadvantage when it comes to pre-learning the content. It may take longer, or they may not have as good an understanding of the topic by the time the lesson comes, so are less able to make use of the in-person activities.

Additionally, there is already a concern about the amount of time students spend on screens. This article from Exploding Topics suggests that teenagers in America spend over 7 hours on a screen each day – and regular flipped learning could increase this further.

2. Flipped learning relies on students completing the work before lessons

A core part of the flipped learning process is that students go over the relevant content before their classes. However, it’s hard to make sure this actually happens.

When learning independently, it’s much easier to procrastinate than it is in classrooms, or simply not do all of the work. In traditional teaching, this would mean handing in a piece of homework late – but as long as the homework still gets done, the student should benefit from it.

However, for flipped learning, not getting the work done means you show up to the lesson unprepared. You then can’t access most of the benefits of flipped learning, as it’s harder to actively participate in activities and discussions.

3. Flipped learning isn’t necessarily the best for test preparation

Most lessons, lectures and the like are currently designed to prepare students for an exam at the end of the course. These exams will often have set syllabuses of information the student is expected to understand.

When there’s a teacher directly explaining content to you, it’s easier to make sure all the exam content is covered. However, it’s easier to miss little bits of information if you are learning independently.

Of course, there are still likely to be progress tests and similar measures in place to make sure students are at the expected level of knowledge. However, flipped learning isn’t designed to teach to the test, as explained in this article from Teach Thought, where you can also read more about the pros and cons in general.

Does flipped learning work?

We’ve been through the pros and cons, but a lot of these are subjective. Whether students prefer standard or flipped learning is often a personal preference.

You may be wondering if there is a consensus as to whether traditional or flipped learning styles are better for students. In fact, many studies have been done to explore this.

Several studies have outlined an improvement in students’ motivation, engagement and attendance in lessons when using the flipped learning method, as discussed in this article from AdvanceHE (also linked above).

In contrast to this, this article from EdSurge pulls together lots of different studies on flipped learning. It concludes that flipped learning doesn’t always work in reality. Students still spend time learning passively at home, and it’s harder to track their learning.

However, the article also notes that the theory behind flipped learning has good potential. If used carefully, with suitable resources and checkpoints, it could still be a great way of learning.

Ultimately, there is no definitive answer about how well flipped learning works in comparison to other methods. In all likelihood, each method will be better for different students with different learning styles.

How do you adapt to flipped learning?

Making the switch to flipped learning, when you are used to a more traditional method, is difficult for teachers, schools and students alike.

In fact, this is another potential disadvantage of flipped learning. Teachers would have to make or find a huge number of new resources and lesson plans. Students would have to get used to an entirely different way of working, which can do more harm than good to their education in the short term.

However, if you know you are going to be experiencing flipped learning, the main thing to get used to is find the self-motivation to get your independent learning done before the lesson. You can check out this article from Think Student for plenty of tips to keep motivation high when doing schoolwork.

Hopefully, this article has given you a full overview of what flipped learning is, how it works, as well as some of the pros and cons. If you want an even more detailed deep dive into the subject, you can check out this website from the dedicated Flipped Learning Network!

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