Flipped classrooms are a popular pedagogical technique, delivering lectures before class so that students can engage in active learning and problem-solving activities during class. Although the response from students and teachers is mostly positive, the approach is not without its challenges.1
The advantages and challenges are widely studied. A 2017 literature review by Lo and Hew addressed prevalent challenges that exist with the flipped classroom. Although they specifically reviewed challenges in K-12 education, the review is also applicable in higher education because similar challenges seem to exist.2
Challenge: Unfamiliar Instructional Approach
Many students are unfamiliar with the flipped classroom instructional approach. They may not understand the rationale of the flipped classroom, and they may be unaccustomed to learning new material outside of the classroom. Consequently, students may find it too demanding to learn a new educational approach and understand the course material at the same time.
Guideline: Strengthen teacher-student communication before flipping
Students may resist the change to a new instructional method if they do not understand its goals and benefits. So before flipping, teachers should open up communication with students, explaining the purpose of the flipped classroom and how it will help them learn the material more thoroughly. Students should also have a chance to voice their concerns. This way, teachers can provide the necessary support and directions to alleviate their stress.
Additionally, teachers should include adequate instructional time that focuses on the routines and procedures in a flipped classroom, giving students time to learn how to be successful in this new format. In particular, students may not be comfortable with common learning strategies in the flipped classroom, such as learning from videos and working in groups. Teachers should demonstrate how to learn from a video, showing students how to pause the video to give time to write notes, and rewind sections that they did not understand. Furthermore, clear instructions for group work should be detailed every time students work in groups.
Challenge: Disengagement During Pre-Class Activities
Poorly developed pre-class instructional videos may inadvertently impede the learning process. For example, some students become disengaged when watching long videos and do not complete the video in its entirety. Other students complain that videos seem impersonal and that they feel disconnected from the teacher on the screen. As a result, they watch passively and miss essential concepts.
GUIDELINE: Practice cognitive theory in video production
Research on multimedia learning suggests that students have an engagement time of about 6 minutes when watching videos. So, more extended topics should be broken up into shorter segments lasting no more than 6 minutes. Additionally, videos with a more conversational approach will help students feel a more profound sense of connection with the instructor on screen and increase engagement.
Challenge: Overwhelming Workload for Students
In some instances, students complained that the pre-class workload of flipped classrooms exceeded that of a traditional classroom.
GUIDELINE: Retain the workload of traditional classrooms
A flipped course should maintain the same amount of work as a traditional course, so instructors should estimate the time required for traditional homework and align their pre-class activities accordingly. It is worth remembering that students will spend more time watching than a video's actual play length since they will regularly stop and rewind the video. So, each class should not require more than 20 mins of video content.
Challenge: Lack of Out-of-Class Support
Some students complain that they are not able to ask questions during pre-class activities. Students are often expected to use their newly acquired knowledge in the next class period, and unanswered questions may lead to misconceptions or knowledge gaps, hindering the in-class activities.
GUIDELINE: Provide students with out-of-class communication platforms
Students need extra out-of-class support in a flipped classroom because it is challenging to learn the material in isolation. Opening lines of communication for students to interact with each other and their instructor outside-of-class may provide the necessary assistance. Online discussion boards work well for this, and many learning management systems (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle) already have built-in discussion forums.
Challenge: Overwhelming Work for Teachers
Although there are plenty of instructional videos that are available online, some teachers complain that they are not easy to find or that they do not perfectly match what they want their students to learn. Because of this, many teachers attempt to create their materials, requiring a substantial amount of time and effort.
GUIDELINE: Prepare materials progressively
It may not be feasible for a teacher to develop an entire suite of course content for a new flipped class. Instead, it may be more reasonable to work on two to three topics each year and supplement them with already available content. Another option is to develop material collaboratively, with a group of teachers working together to develop a course.
Challenge: Unfamiliar Instructional Technique for Teachers
A few studies have found that teachers who were recently introduced to the flipped classroom did not understand the technique or the advantage of the approach.
GUIDELINE: Increase pre-service training and professional development options
With flipped and blended classrooms growing in popularity, related training should also increase. On the one hand, it may be beneficial to increase pre-service teacher instruction related to the method. Training in video production and lesson design could expose new teachers to more diverse instructional methods and establish a more practical connection with educational theory. On the other hand, teachers who are already flipping their classrooms could benefit from increased communication with colleagues and other professionals regarding their teaching approach. Notably, an alternative perspective may help to point out areas of weakness so teachers can improve their techniques.
Challenge: Limited Student Accountability for Pre-class Activities
Likely the number one challenge with flipped classrooms is an inability to motivate and monitor students' participation with the pre-class learning activities. The teaching method relies on the completion of pre-class activities, and inadequate preparation may dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the in-class activities.
GUIDELINE: Incorporate a learning management system that includes gamification
Gamification, a growing trend in education, seems to have positive effects on student motivation and engagement. The technique usually involves rewarding students with points or badges and keeping track of progress on a leaderboard. Some learning management systems (e.g., Moodle) have built in-game elements. There are also third-party systems like Classcraft that provide each student with an online character that can be customized as they earn points from completing pre-class activities.
Challenges certainly exist with flipped classrooms; however, following these guidelines should help reduce their negative impact on the learning environment. Please leave a comment; I would love to learn about guidelines that you use in your classroom to counter these challenges.
- Akçayır, G., & Akçayır, M. (2018). The flipped classroom: A review of its advantages and challenges. Computers & Education, 126, 334-345.
- Lo, C. K., & Hew, K. F. (2017). A critical review of flipped classroom challenges in K-12 education: Possible solutions and recommendations for future research. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning, 12(1), 4.
Editor's Note: Follow the link if you are interested in Josh's other posts about the flipped classroom.