Flipping classrooms: silly name for a good idea?

Traditional training is based on the model where an expert trainer stands at the front and tells people stuff.

This is known as “the sage on the stage” model, or, as Brazilian Philosopher and educator Paulo Freire calls it: the Banking Concept:

Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat.

(Source: The Banking Concept of Education by Paulo Freire)

To put it another way, an active all-knowing speaker educates groups of passive ignorant listeners.

Freire’s conclusion is that this approach doesn’t work because …

Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.

This conclusion is kind of what the “flipped classroom” idea is about: moving away from the “sage on the stage” approach of shoving facts into passive students’ memories, to a model where the trainer becomes “the guide on the side”, helping active learners to engage socially to enquire, discuss and discover in order to build genuine understanding and deep knowledge.

Here’s one definition of “flipped classroom”:

The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of the course are reversed

(Source: 7 things you should know about a flipped classroom by Educause Learning Initiative)

When we dig a little deeper into the same article, we discover that what they mean is:

almost any class structure that provides prerecorded lectures followed by in-class exercise

So not just pedagogical, it can also apply to adults (“any class structure”), and it’s about having prerecorded knowledge transfer followed by in-class collaboration.

… an instructor “flips” by replacing lectures with more active forms of student engagement in the classroom

(Source: Can flipped classrooms help students learn by Nancy Lape, Rachel Levy and Darryl Yong)

That’s not what “flips” means, but I’ll let that go.

What is a flipped classroom?

It’s about two things (neither of which have anything to do with the word “flip”):

  • The knowledge-transfer bit is taken out the classroom and given separately beforehand (ideally via a video or similar)
  • The classroom is used to reinforce the learning through exercises and social interaction (what Salman Khan calls “discovery camp“)

Haven’t we heard all this before?

This was how my first degree course was constructed:

  • Attend a lecture
  • Read the source material
  • Attend a seminar to discuss it all

Same principle.

It didn’t work so well because the two methods used to transfer the knowledge were boring and hard work, and step three was often misinterpreted to mean “attend a pub” rather than “attend a seminar”, but the structure was basically the same.

But let’s not be cynical.

Whatever else happens to human civilization and the world and stuff, one thing I know for sure: we cannot let the cynics win!

So whilst I’m not convinced this is anything new, it has been shown to drive up standards in schools and has good applicability for workplace learning (beyond turgid pre-course reading and PowerPointy e-learning modules).

To work properly it has to be good, and this depends on two things:

  1. The pre-course content must be accessible, engaging and of high quality
  2. The classroom element must be about making the most of reflection and the social experience

This makes sense.

I have acquired more knowledge from self-directed use of YouTube and Wikipedia than I did in over twenty years of formal study at school and university.

To paraphrase(ish) the great Mark Twain:

My learning is rarely driven by my schooling

I don’t like the term “flipped classroom”, but I reckon it’s about trying to make sure the “schooling” bit (i.e. stuff I’ve been taught) is more effective at driving the “learning” bit (i.e. stuff I’ve actually learnt) by making the most of classroom’s social and collaborative opportunities and moving knowledge transfer to a much more effective medium like video.

Silly name for a simple concept.


This post was also published on:


3 Responses to Flipping classrooms: silly name for a good idea?

  1. Nancy Bacon says:

    Huge fan of your podcast! Thank you for bringing such thoughtful conversation to the adult learning world.

    I wanted to offer a different thought on the flipped classroom. Your analysis looks at the element of time. The lesson is taught beforehand by video or some other virtual tool, after which a student applies that knowledge with a teacher in a classroom. Another way to look at it is by thinking about the element of space or location. While in a typical classroom, the content expert and the student come together in one place (either for the lecture or the application), the flipped classroom concept allows the expert and the student to be different places at different times. This opens up all sorts of asynchronous learning opportunities.

    Let me give you an example. I run the learning program for Washington State’s nonprofit association. (I believe the UK calls them charities.) There are 58,000 nonprofits in Washington, and the state is large (by US standards) with a mountain range running down the middle of it. When I began four years ago, all training was done in traditional workshop form. There was a case of nonprofit fraud in the state, and I was told to run a workshop. The numbers are against me: there are not enough trainers, enough time, enough experts willing to travel, enough budget, etc. to make a dent on fraud if we limit ourselves to workshops.

    I studied all of the ways that people were learning things online and concluded that the only way we were going to leverage the 3 places people learn (alone, with peers and in classrooms) was if we created short videos modeled on the flipped classroom. The result was Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits, a set of 6 short videos (with supporting kits) covering what people need to know about nonprofit finance. People are downloading them in high numbers from our Vimeo channel, bringing them into their board meetings, and attending the workshops we do arrange, which don’t need an accountant because the accountant is in the video. By putting the expert on the video, the person leading the workshop can focus on good teaching. Finance worked so well that we have since created series on boards, law, and soon planning.

    All of which to say– the “flipped classroom” conversation is a really interesting one that helps those of us working outside of the walls of one company to imagine new ways of teaching people who have no mandated reason to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Nancy, many thanks for your comment and it’s great to hear you like the podcasts and find them useful. That’s very motivating for me to hear.

    I like your example of the “flipped classroom”, and you’re right to show how the concept complements a blended learning approach by pushing the knowledge-transfer into a flexible medium where time and distance aren’t an issue . important for those of covering a lot of people over a large geographical area.

    I think the key to it being a “flipped classroom” is that in addition to the distance learning element is what happens when people get together with the facilitator and the social learning that occurs: the sharing, the conversations, the challenges, the practice.

    I think using face-to-face time on anything else is a wasted opportunity!

    Although it’s not always easy to get people to see that, and although it’s a much more effective way of learning, it’s not always regarded as “proper training”.


  3. Sheela Hobden says:

    I really like this concept. I am always looking for ways to tailor material to the individual needs of the learner and this has given me an idea. There can be different levels of “package”. Some learners will absorb the pre-read and not need (want) any further interaction. Some will want to simply clarify the knowledge they have received and others will want the opportunity to explore further and really engage with others to really get to the application. These could be bronze, silver and gold, and having digested the information, they can decide which option they want to pursue. There could be additional “instant access” online tutors available for the just in time learning needs. It really puts the power and commitment with the learner, they too are in control of how they learn.
    I know what you mean about the term “flipped classroom”, but I couldn’t come up with a better description either. My best shot was “Springboard Classroom” (because they spring in to the start at a higher knowledge level than normal) – but sounded a bit gimmicky!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: