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Flipped learning

Weighing up if it’s worth the extra flippin’ work

Methods of flipped learning need to be better defined in order to prove they are more effective compared to traditional lesson planning, as much of the apparent advantage may be due to just more time spent on the content overall, according to a meta-analysis by Manu Kapur at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, and colleagues at Melbourne University, Australia.

Flipped learning, where students learn content at home prior to the classroom lesson, where the content is explored in more depth, has increased in popularity over the past decade. In theory, this relegates the more passive part of the learning experience to pre-class homework, freeing up precious time with the teacher for more active learning. As such, this reverses the traditional model, where the teacher presents content, then the students are given homework further exploring that content.

Kapur’s study sought to test the assumption that flipped learning produces better outcomes in terms of student understanding of the topic, as well as their subsequent grades. This comprehensive meta-analysis begins with a review of 47 previous meta-analyses up to 2019 and then provides a new meta-analysis combining the results of these previous studies.

The first clear finding is that the effectiveness of flipped learning varies enormously from essentially no effect to very strong. This suggests that there must be several factors influencing the outcome, so the authors proceed to dig into the data to see what these influences might be.

Of particular interest is the choice of pre-class and in-class activities. Much of the pre-class activity is passive, as might be expected in a flipped classroom. In terms of effective overall outcomes, reading was more effective than watching a video – which was more effective than a PowerPoint presentation. However, outcomes were best when the pre-class tasks also involved less-passive activities related to problem-solving.

A more surprising finding was that a short teacher-led presentation (or lecture, at university level) in the classroom was more effective than just class activities alone. The authors suggest that the repetition of the material consolidates learning, but perhaps this also reflects the finding that 30% of students don’t do the pre-class work.

It is not easy to do controlled studies in education, but the authors were able to extract enough data on lessons using the traditional format to make an overall comparison. This analysis showed that the traditional classroom could be just as effective as the flipped classroom if the lesson tasks favoured more active learning, such as problem-solving, debate, group work, role playing and discussion.

Taken together, it seems that the flipped-learning model could do with more flipping, working best when there is less-passive pre-class work and maintaining some teacher-led content presentation in the classroom. From their detailed analysis, the authors propose a four-point approach to using the flipped classroom:

1. Fail: set pre-class questions that test students’ current knowledge and understanding to show what they do and don’t know. Even if they fail at these tasks, the effort and exploration will lead to better learning overall (the Productive Failure effect).

2. Flip: students then have further pre-class content, such as readings or videos. This is like the usual flipped model, but the ‘fail’ stage coming first makes it more effective.

3. Fix: in class, check misconceptions by questioning or other tasks, then present the content again. In this presentation of the content, the teacher knows where the misconceptions are and can use this to target the content.

4. Feedback: the use of formative assessment is important to assess outcomes.

One of the drawbacks of flipped learning is that it takes so much more time, both for students and teachers, and the authors point out that much of the advantage of flipped learning may be due to the students just spending more time on the content.

From the teacher’s point of view, a flipped lecture course has been estimated to take 127% more time to prepare and 57% more time to maintain. If considerations of effectiveness take teachers’ time into consideration, it may be that improvements in the traditional classroom, such as more active learning and use of formative assessment, can close the gap between flipped learning and the traditional classroom.

REFERENCE

  • Kapur, M, Hattie, J, Grossman, I and Sinha, T (2022). ‘Fail, flip, fix, and feed – rethinking flipped learning: a review of meta-analyses and a subsequent meta-analysis’, Frontiers in Education, 7: 956416. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2022.956416
Image courtesy of PHOTOGRAPH ORNA WACHMAN FROM PIXABAY
Gill Ragsdale
Gill Ragsdale
Gill has a PhD in Evolutionary Psychology from Cambridge, and teaches Psychology with the Open University, but also holds an RSA-Cert TEFL. Gill has taught EFL in the UK, Turkey, Egypt and to the refugees in the Calais 'Jungle' in France. She currently teaches English to refugees in the UK.
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