The Quick Study: Flipped Learning

by | 9 May, 2018 | 1 comment

In our new series The Quick Study, we'll be taking a walk through some key pedagogical ideas and texts as they're presented in the peer-reviewed literature. Each post will summarise a contemporary or historically significant article, providing a refresher or entry point to further reading.

In this first post, we take a look at Bishop and Verleger’s “The Flipped Classroom: A Survey of the Research” (2013).

Mid-way into the rise of the ‘flipped classroom’ approach to formal education, Bishop and Verleger examined its methodologies and results, while providing background and context to its development. Published in 2013, much of their data came from the mid-2000s – 2010.

Their survey examined issues such as:

  • What is flipped learning?
  • How did it become a Thing™? (ie. how did we get here?)
  • What are the pedagogical bases for flipped learning?
  • What are the results (so far)?

What is it?

Bishop and Verleger begin with the following definition:

The flipped classroom is a new pedagogical method, which employs asynchronous video lectures and practice problems as homework, and active, group-based problem solving activities in the classroom. It represents a unique combination of learning theories once thought to be incompatible-active, problem-based learning activities founded upon a constructivist ideology and instructional lectures derived from direct instruction methods founded upon behaviorist principles (2013, 1).

They’re keen to emphasise that it’s not a case of simply reordering or swapping in-class with at-home activities. Instead, it’s an opportunity to review and add more effective activities grounded in pedagogical theory and learning outcomes.

It’s worth noting that the idea of ‘extension’ suggests an additional workload for staff in initially preparing the extra materials, and additional time students are expected to spend in the course.

a diagram showing two columns, the first column on the left is titled 'require human interaction' and contains 'Student-centred learning theories' in the first box, leading down to prescribe 'interactive classroom activities'. Next to that column is a plus sign, leading to the next column 'can be automated through computer technology'. This column contains 'teacher-centred learning theories' in the first box, leading to prescribe 'explicit instruction methods'. To the right of this column is an equal sign, and the last box 'flipped classroom'.

Figure 1: Flipped Classroom by Bishop and Verleger, 2013.

How did we get here?

The authors trace two trajectories that have led to the flipped classroom – a pedagogical development, and an economic one, both linked through technology and ideology.

On the pedagogical side, they note that the rise of online resources freed up information and made it more widely available than ever before, diminishing the traditional barriers of distance, cost, and the control of knowledge gatekeepers. Free, open resources like Wikipedia, and later MIT’s OpenCourseWare and Khan Academy weakened the ideological grip of learning derived from limited access.

Meanwhile, as digital education grew, studies suggested that some digital learning activities could be as effective, or more effective than traditional formats, including video instruction, interactive videos, online homework and intelligent tutoring systems.

As this was happening, industries were demanding a wider range of applicable skills from higher education graduates that extend beyond the curricula – skills like problem solving, teamwork and communication.

While knowledge and learning was becoming more available and in many cases free on the internet, Bishop and Verleger observe that universities were going in the opposite direction, with the global costs of tertiary education rising as public funding decreased. These opposing trends highlighted the pressing question: what was the value of a university degree? What differentiated university learning from the information gathering and online learning students could otherwise undertake for a fraction of the cost?

Bishop and Verleger suggest the move into flipped learning is one response to these trends, utilising class time to differentiate, extend and improve the quality of formal education.

What are the theoretical bases for flipped learning?

Tracing the pedagogical path to flipped learning, Bishop and Verleger situate the approach within the field of ‘student-centred learning’, outlining a trajectory from Piaget (1967) and Vygotsky (1978). Flipped classroom activities are situated within the field of ‘active’ learning, a superset of ‘peer-assisted learning’ (‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative learning’), and ‘problem-based learning’.

They cite Doolittle (1995) on five key factors for cooperative learning:

  1. Positive interdependence
  2. Face-to-face interaction
  3. Individual accountability
  4. Small group & interpersonal skills
  5. Group self-evaluation

And draw from Barrows’s (1996) six characteristics of problem-based learning:

  1. Learning is student-centred
  2. Learning occurs in small student groups
  3. Teachers are facilitators or guides
  4. Problems form the organising focus and stimulus for learning
  5. Problems are a vehicle for the development of clinical problem-solving skills
  6. New information is acquired through self-directed learning
A venn diagram, with the largest circle labelled 'active learning', and the second largest circle inside this one labelled 'peer-assisted learning'. Within that circle is 'cooperative learning' which overlaps with 'collaborative learning', which then overlaps 'peer tutoring'. Inside the 'active learning' circle and overlapping all of the other circles is 'problem-based learning'.

Figure 2: Venn diagram of several student centered learning theories and methods, in Bishop and Verleger, 2013.

Bishop and Verleger stress that the focus on flipped classroom activities should very much be on what happens in-class, with the warning:

[S]ome may… conceptualize the flipped classroom based only on the presence (or absence) of computer technology such as video lectures. This would be a mistake, since the pedagogical theory used to design the in-class experience may ultimately be the determining factor in the success (or failure) of the flipped classroom (2013, 9).

What are the results?

It’s worth noting that the flipped classroom has become significantly more widespread in the intervening years, and much more research is available. However, they recount some notable findings:

  • Student feedback was generally positive, but there were “invariably a few students who strongly disliked the change” (Bishop and Verleger, 2013, 9)
  • Pre-class quizzes were well appreciated, with some students requesting them
  • Students preferred in-person lectures to video lectures, but preferred interactive class time over lectures
  • Students preferred shorter videos to longer ones

An interesting point to make is that there appear to be two considerations: what students prefer (student satisfaction), and what’s most effective (student outcomes). Bishop and Verleger note that of all the research they reviewed, only one dealt with student performance, which did demonstrate positive outcomes, although in somewhat specific circumstances.

As a final note, Bishop and Verleger make the wry observation:

The label student-centered is carefully crafted for linguistic effect. This is much like the label pro-choice, which is crafted to portray an opposite of anti-choice or pro-slavery. Correspondingly, the label pro-life suggests an opposite of pro-death or anti-life. Educators do not typically self-identify as having a teacher centered or non-student focused teaching philosophy. Like its political counterpart, the educational debate is both complex and highly polarizing (2013, 12).

Bishop and Verleger’s “The Flipped Classroom: A Survey of the Research” (2013) provides a wealth of bibliographic material, and a strong entry point into the theoretical underpinnings of the methods. Although somewhat light on results, we can expect to see significantly more research emerge over the past six years, which may form the basis of future articles.

Postscript: Share your comments, thoughts and concerns with the flipped learning pedagogy below!

Post Postscript: What do you think of our new format? A useful entry point for discussion? Pointlessly derivative (who summarises a survey?!) What (if any) topics would you like to see us cover next?

BARROWS, H. S. 1996. Problem‐based learning in medicine and beyond: A brief overview. New directions for teaching and learning, 1996, 3-12.
BISHOP, J. L. & VERLEGER, M. A. The flipped classroom: A survey of the research. ASEE National Conference Proceedings, Atlanta, GA, 2013. 1-18.
DOOLITTLE, P. E. 1995. Understanding Cooperative Learning through Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.
PIAGET, J. 1967. Six Psychological Studies, Random House.
VYGOTSKY, L. S., COLE, M., JOHN-STEINER, V., SCRIBNER, S. & SOUBERMAN, E. 1978. Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Harvard University Press.

1 Comment

  1. Carmen Vallis

    Not pointlessly derivative at all! Thanks for sharing this useful snapshot of flipped classroom research and using “class time to differentiate, extend and improve the quality of formal education.”


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