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Flipped Classroom: Definition and Details

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Educators -- from elementary school teachers to corporate trainers -- are using the flipped classroom model to enhance their students’ learning experience. But what is exactly is a flipped classroom and how does it work? This post provides a flipped classroom definition and explores how the model can be put into action.

Flipped learning definition

The flipped classroom is a type of blended, or hybrid, learning, which means that it uses a combination of face-to-face and digital techniques. In the flipped classroom, what is “flipped” is the type of activities students do in class and out of class.

The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching provides an excellent flipped classroom definition:

“The flipped classroom describes a reversal of traditional teaching where students gain first exposure to new materials outside of class, usually via reading or lecture videos, and then class time is used to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge through strategies such as problem-solving, discussion, or debates.”

As you can see, the flipped classroom definition goes beyond just what activities are done when and where. What makes flipped learning so effective is the deeper meaning behind the various activities.

In a traditional classroom, students often gain their first exposure to new materials in class, usually during lectures. Then, they are sent home to do the “harder work of assimilating” that information on their own. The problem with this format is that it is not a very good way for students to learn. When being exposed to new materials for the first time, students usually haven’t had the opportunity to process the information enough to even identify where they have questions. And the harder work of assimilation is more effective when students have support, such as people to answer their questions and with whom to talk through problems.

The flipped classroom corrects this problem by moving the exposure to new information out of class, so students can process the information, identify their sticking points, and then ask questions during class. The ability to engage in “strategies such as problem-solving, discussion, or debates” also deepens learners’ engagement with the concepts so that they can arrive at a real place of mastery, rather than just a perfunctory understanding.

How to flip a classroom

With the digital tools available today, it is just as easy to develop and teach and flipped class as a traditional class.

On the instructor side, all you need is a few free or low-cost online tools:

  • Content creation tools. You can use many different tools to create your course content, including a webcam for video lectures, screenshare software for presentations and tutorials, and pdf software for text-based materials. The advantage is that you can choose the best tool for each piece of content, rather than having to make all content fit into the same delivery format.
  • Content distribution tools. After you’ve created the content for your course, you need to distribute it. There are many ways you can do this. One of the most popular is using a software program using an online course creator or authoring tool. These tools allow you to organize your course resources into modules that students can login and access. They also provide extras, such as discussion forums and sometimes test making software.

On the student side, all learners need is a computer or mobile device and an Internet connection. If you use an online course creator, students can login to the system to gain access to all of the content and other resources.

Flipping a classroom is a powerful new way to engage students and to enhance their learning experience. Fortunately, there are digital tools available today that make the flipped classroom model feasible for all instructors and all learners.