Why flipped learning doesn’t work…
…and our reasons for it.
Hello! Welcome to the 12th edition of Things in Education, the fortnightly newsletter through which we hope to share the latest in education research and developments in the form of accessible summaries and stories to help you in the classroom and at home.
Flipped learning is the newest buzzword in the education world, mainly fuelled by the pandemic. With rising comfort in conducting classes online and tools like Learning Management Systems, schools are looking to technology to solve issues of student motivation and deep learning.
Flipped learning seems to come with all the answers – using technology to provide students with academic material at home, followed by practice sessions in school. This, the hope is, will give teachers more time to complete the syllabus and also change the nature of work students are expected to do at home, making it more engaging.
Unfortunately, flipped learning, as currently implemented in schools, does neither.
First, let’s understand what flipped learning may look like in practice:
A Grade 5 Maths teacher is set to begin the topic of ‘addition of unlike fractions’ in her classroom. Using an online Learning Management System that the school uses, she assigns her class a video based on the topic. For the next day, she prepares a list of sums for practice.
Now, let’s understand what happens at the students’ end.
Aarushi and her parents are bombarded with notifications that evening. Aarushi has to watch a 15-minute video about the planets of the Solar System for EVS, a 20-minute video about the use of simple past and past continuous tenses in the same sentence for English, a 12-minute video based on a new poem to be read in Hindi, and a 15-minute video about addition of unlike fractions for Maths. But most importantly, Aarushi wants time to meet her friends and ride her cycle. Her brain is overloaded with all the studying she had to do at school, so she leaves the videos for the end of the day. After dinner, at around 8.30 pm, she sits down in front of her mother’s laptop and begins to watch one video at a time. The concepts are new, and she is sleepy. She tries to understand, but there is no one to ask questions to. There is no hands-on activity or discussion to help her process the information. She doesn’t know how to make sense of all the new concepts. But, she continues to watch. At 10.00 pm, when the fourth video ends, she shuts the laptop and goes to bed.
In another part of the city, her classmate Samia spends the evening playing with her younger brother. She hasn’t received any notifications. The only laptop they have is with her father, who is travelling for work.
The next day in class, the Maths teacher spends the first 5 minutes solving a sum on the board, asking students to tell her the steps. Aarushi struggles to remember what she had watched. Samia is hesitant to tell her teacher that she couldn’t watch the videos. The teacher finishes the sum on the board and asks if everyone has understood. “Yes, miss…” the class chants. Now, it’s time for practice – students have to solve 15 new sums on their own. The teacher walks around, looking into their notebooks. Most students have no idea how to begin.
In this example, we see that students have learnt even less than they would have from a traditional teaching model. What went wrong?
Flipped learning in its truest sense has the following aims:
By giving students time to watch videos and read information about new concepts at home, it aims to build in students the skills of independent learning.
By building background knowledge with the help of videos and readings, it aims to have all students start from the same level of knowledge in the classroom.
By shifting the load of introducing new material to the home, it aims to make school time more about hands-on work, peer learning, and formative assessments.
Let’s analyse the example through the lens of each aim.
Enabling students to become independent learners is probably the most important aim of education. After all, a person who is motivated and able to learn independently can adapt well to various life situations and meet several professional and other challenges. However, as important as it is, this is not an easy aim to achieve. As we explained in the 10th edition of our newsletter, the brain likes to conserve energy, and learning (forming connections between neurons in our brain) requires a lot of energy. In order to learn, and specifically in order to learn independently, we must be highly motivated. As countless studies have shown, such motivation is built through positive learning environments, passionate teachers with high expertise, and interactions with peers. However, none of these elements existed in the flipped learning model we read about in the example – watching a video does not equal a positive learning environment; the teacher played a minimal role in the learning process; and interactions with peers were completely missing.
Background knowledge plays a crucial role in learning – learning happens best when we can relate new knowledge to our existing knowledge. Flipped learning aims to build this background knowledge through videos watched at home, so that students come to school prepared with questions and ready to apply their learning. Unfortunately, building any form of knowledge takes more than just watching a video. By its very nature, watching a video is a passive activity, requiring our brain to do very little work – this is why we can spend hours and hours binge-watching shows on our computer without losing energy! Learning requires us to actively think about new information, but in the case of the flipped learning model in the example, the student is not expected to think actively – only watch a video. Traditional homework like solving sums would be much better because it requires active thinking and therefore leads to learning.
School hours should not be wholly dedicated to reading from textbooks or listening to lectures. Hands-on work requires the use of many senses, which is key to deep learning; peer discussions, debates and projects motivate students and give them opportunities to learn from each other and develop skills of communication and collaboration; and formative assessments give us valuable data about how much and how well students have learnt. Flipped learning aims to free up more school time for these elements. However, in the example we read, school time was not utilised well. Sums that would have otherwise been assigned as homework were now given as classwork, instead of giving students authentic opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge through simple activities and peer learning.
Simply flipping the classroom, by giving homework as classwork and vice versa, does not work. Instead, a new form of blended learning – planned carefully for across the year, which takes into consideration teacher professional development, teacher time, students’ motivation, access to technology and principles of how the mind learns – is the way forward. We will write about this form of blended learning in detail in an upcoming edition.
In this article, cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham explains why actively thinking about something is the key to learning.
In this blog post, Aniruddh writes about designing lesson plans while keeping in mind the importance of making connections with existing knowledge.
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