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The flipped classroom approach to supporting learning has been around for a number of years. In this approach, students receive background information or lesson content via video or other means to review prior to scheduled class time. Class time is spent engaging students in discussion and activities associated with the information. The idea is to have class time offer opportunities for students to take an active role in learning and have any questions from prework addressed.

The approach has been hailed as a practical way to improve learning experiences and increase learning outcomes. However, a recent study of the learning impact of the flipped classroom approach calls this assumption into question. The study included more than 1,300 first year West Point cadets taking courses in economics and mathematics. Led by professors from Tufts University and staff of the United States Military Academy, the study randomly divided cadets into two groups, one group experienced a traditional class format and the other experienced a flipped approach.

The study found no significant long-term difference in performance in the economics class. In math, the cadets in the flipped approach showed better early results, but by the end of the study both groups performed equally well. However, there were significant differences in the performance of subgroups of cadets in the flipped classroom group. White male students experienced particular learning gains while women, black, and Hispanic cadets experience little to no benefits. They cautioned that a flipped approach might lead to increases in achievement gaps across subgroups of students, so careful monitoring is important.

The researchers suggested that among the potential causes for the differences were the level of instructor enthusiasm for a flipped classroom approach, how much time and effort students spent preparing with out-of-class materials, and how class time allocated for activities such as reinforcing and building on out-of-class content.

Reflection on the results of the study suggests at least four considerations relative to the flipped classroom approach. First, we need to consider the quality and engagement potential of the activities in which students are asked to participate in before class time. If the materials are not attractive or seen as worthwhile by students, they are less likely to complete the work and be ready for class activities. Simply sending a video of a lecture that in a traditional model would have been delivered live is not likely to create high levels of engagement and learning commitment.

Second, we must consider the maturity, self-discipline, and learning commitment of students. Even well prepared and engaging content is not likely to be of much learning value if students do not take the time to complete activities and come prepared for active engagement in class. Some modifications and additional preparation may be necessary for students who are not ready for the responsibilities of independent work.

Third, we need to consider how class time is used. If the time is spent repeating information that was provided in advance, little benefit can be expected. Further, if excessive time is spent answering the individual questions of some students, marginal benefits may accrue to other students.

Fourth, we need to be certain that students feel confident and accept our expectation that they ask questions and seek extra teacher support if they need it. They also need to know when and how to reach out. Multiple studies have shown that students from working class families and some minorities are more reluctant to ask for help when they need it. We must be ready to reach out and support where needed, without compromising access and support for the class as a whole.  

What experience do you have with the flipped classroom approach? What advantages and disadvantages have you discovered? What solutions have you developed?


Setren, E., Greenberg, K., Moore, O., & Yankovich, M. (2019). Effects of the flipped classroom: Evidence from a randomized trial. (SEII Discussion Paper No. 2019.07). Retrieved from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative website: http://seii.mit.edu/research/study/effects-of-the-flipped-classroom-evidence-from-a-randomized-trial/

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