NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Classroom Flipping: The Unproven Education Phenomenon

August 8, 2013

If 2012 was the year of MOOCs (massive open online courses) in higher education, then the flipped classroom was the innovation of the year for K-12 schools.  Both the New York Times and the Washington Post spilled ink over the phenomenon. Several authors resorted to old-fashioned books to discuss flipping, including the two teachers who allegedly originated the technique. None of that tells us anything about the number of teachers who actually flipped their classrooms. No one has offered any firm measure of the practice or, more importantly, assessed its impact on student learning, says Michael B. Horn, a cofounder of the Clayton Christensen Institute and executive director of its education program.

  • In case you missed all the hype, the flipped classroom is a form of blended learning in which students learn online at least part of the time while attending a brick-and-mortar school.
  • Either at home or during a homework period at school, students view lessons and lectures online.
  • Time in the classroom, previously reserved for teacher instruction, is spent on what we used to call homework, with teacher assistance as needed.

Moving the delivery of basic content instruction online gives students the opportunity to hit rewind and view again a section they don't understand or fast-forward through material they have already mastered. Students decide what to watch and when, which, theoretically at least, gives them greater ownership over their learning.

This arrangement, however, doesn't tackle the root causes of the lack of motivation that persists among many low-achieving students. Some in the media have suggested that the flipped classroom approach may only work in upper-income, suburban schools. If low-income students lack access to computers at home or to reliable Internet access, flipping may be a nonstarter in some schools.

The flipped classroom does not address all the limitations of the brick-and-mortar school. Although in the best flipped classroom implementations each student can move at her own pace and view lessons at home that meet her individual needs rather than those of the entire class, most flipped classrooms do not operate this way.

Even if the flipped classroom does prove of some benefit to some low-income students, this change in structure alone is unlikely to produce the vast improvement in student learning our country needs. But that doesn't mean the innovation is insignificant. The flipped classroom might still have an important indirect impact on the American education system, as one brand of digital learning.

Source: Michael B. Horn, "The Transformational Potential of Flipped Classrooms," Education Next, 2013.


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