The Flipped Classroom and Personalised Learning

The flipped classroom model of instruction has exploded in popularity over the past few years. It has also sparked new debates around how best to meet each child’s individual needs. Yet the underlying concept of the flipped classroom dates back thousands of years.

So what exactly is the ‘flipped classroom’, and why is it attracting so much attention now?

As the name suggests, the flipped classroom inverts traditional teaching methods by delivering instruction online outside of class and moving homework into the classroom.

The purpose of flipping the classroom is to shift from passive to active learning, supporting students to develop higher order cognitive skills. The student is empowered in their autonomous learning and the teacher’s role shifts from the sole distributor of content to a facilitator of deeper learning and collaboration.

Blackboard showing flipped classroom text

A brief history of the flipped classroom

The concept of active learning might stretch as far back as the Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, who believed that critical thinking was fostered through inquiry and discussion. As a practice, the flipped classroom is widely attributed to Jonathon Bergman and Aaron Sams who, back in 2007, recorded their PowerPoint presentations and asked their students to watch the videos as homework, then bring their thoughts back to class.

Variants of the flipped classroom have long existed, if not in name. The Oxford and Cambridge undergraduate tutorial system, for example, provides highly personalised support through close student-tutor interactions. Such approaches do away with the one-size-fits all model of teaching and liberate students to learn at their own pace, and to support one another in achieving their goals.

Delivering personalised learning at scale

The promise of the flipped classroom is that it can deliver personalised learning at scale – say for the 24 students in the average classroom, or more. It is a grand vision, but one that is increasingly possible with the rise of educational technologies such as Maths-Whizz, as highlighted by the following chart[i]:

Flipped classroom and learning delivery chart

The proliferation of online video content, interactive learning tasks and data analytics has forged a strong link between the flipped classroom and personalised learning. Together, these technologies:

  • Present learning materials in a rich variety of formats to suit different learning styles (e.g. text, videos, audio, multimedia)
  • Provide opportunities for collaboration inside and outside the classroom (e.g. online discussion tools)
  • Capture data about students to analyse their progress and identify their individual needs
  • Provide continuous feedback for teachers and students through digital reporting to highlight gaps in understanding and areas for improvement
  • Adapt to students’ needs by tailoring content to their individual learning goals

A teacher who uses these tools effectively can welcome new possibilities in the classroom. It is important to note, however, that there is no such thing as the flipped classroom. Anyone expecting a prescribed set of rules for how to implement the flipped classroom should prepare for disappointment. Sams himself describes six distinct versions of the flipped classroom, while the Clayton Christensen Institute sees the flipped classroom as part of a much broader hierarchy of blended learning models.

The flipped learning mindset

The flipped classroom, with the support of technology, is really just the manifestation of a broader mindset towards teaching, which some educators have called flipped learning.

Flipped learning is an approach – perhaps even a philosophy – that equips teachers with a whole range of methodologies to explore in the classroom. The Flipped Learning Network defines four core components of flipped learning:

  • Flexible environment
  • Learning culture
  • Intentional content
  • Professional educator

Imagine entering a classroom armed with unique learning profile for each student. With that knowledge, a teacher can tailor their teaching to each student, supporting them to fill gaps that have already been identified. Students no longer have to learn the same topics at the same time and same pace. Rather, they can focus on their individual areas of improvement – all guided by their learning profiles. They may interact with computers, with each other, or with both. At all times they are engaged with content that is at just the right level of difficulty.

The professional educator is by far the most important variable in the flipped classroom equation. The role of the teacher shifts to that of a coach as they push deeper understanding of content, promote peer-to-peer collaboration and tailor their instruction to the needs of each child.

Teachers are the gatekeepers to students’ success and the onus lies with providers of educational technologies to adapt to the unique context of their classroom. A true approach to flipped learning will present teachers with a suite of flexible options while staying firmly rooted in the principles of personalised learning.

[i]Strayer, J. F. (2012). How learning in an inverted classroom influences cooperation, innovation and task orientation. Learning Environments Research, 15(2), 171-193.

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