Why Do Flipped Classrooms Sometimes Flop?



Flipped learning classroom (FLC) approaches continue to gain traction across educational institutions. A flipped classroom represents an inversion of traditional lecture and tutorial-based delivery modes. That is, lecture content is delivered ahead of time so that classes can focus on exploring and applying concepts and content alongside rich opportunities for review and formative assessment and feedback.

This blog post was inspired by a conversation, and later an interview, with a first-year student who experienced a highly successful flipped classroom in first semester and then a major flop in the second one. The interview used six framing questions to understand why her flipped classroom ‘flopped’ and what characterised a successful flipped classroom from her perspective.

Questions were:

  1. What’s your involvement with flipped learning and why did you get started?
  2. What does ‘flipped learning & teaching’ mean to you?
  3. How were you inducted into flipped learning? How was that experience? Anything you wished you had known before you started?
  4. Some flipped classrooms really flop. Why does this happen? What do you think are the major challenges in flipping a class? Any suggestions for how to overcome these?
  5. Some teachers really struggle to flip their classrooms? Why do you think they struggle? What strategies might assist them?
  6. Describe what a successful flipped class looks and feels like? What’s happening?

Afterwards, the same questions were asked of four Australian university teachers who had taught flipped classrooms for three years or more. The teachers’ experiences, and lessons learned, helped explain the ‘why’ of the student’s positive and negative experiences.

First, lets look at what a ‘flop’ looked like from the student’s experience. The main causes of the flop were categorised into five themes that were also picked up during teacher interviews:

FLC Theme The FLC flop
1.     Induction & rationale There was no clear induction into flipped learning; Students didn’t understand why the class was flipped.
2.     Integration, coherency, quality of learning experiences There was no obvious integration or linkages between the online and in-class components; Lectures and tutorials were transferred without re-design; Quality of materials and experiences were lacking; Online material was mainly text, and videos were poorly produced.
3.     Learner engagement & teacher presence There was no appeal for learners to engage; no incentives to engage with content, activities or classes; no continuity of teacher presence; no clear leader or expert.
4.     Assessment & employability as motivators Students weren’t motivated; No opportunities to ask questions, revise, clarify understanding, get feedback, understand assessment tasks or see links to future employability.
5.     Teacher preparation & support Teachers and tutors were not prepared or supported for success.

Table 1: Thematic analysis of a ‘flopped’ FLC from a student’s perspective


On the flip side, according to the student and teachers, a successful FLC addresses these themes. The following framework provides a visual summary of the themes from the lessons learned about why flipped classrooms sometimes flop and why they succeed.

Figure 1: Framework for a successful flipped classroom

Based on this framework, I have elaborated some practical tips to help you avoid flopping your flip.

    • Provide students with a welcome video with explicit dialogue around why you are flipping your class and what you hope to achieve by it
    • Take time to explain the philosophy, benefits and value of this format for students to get their buy-in (e.g. flexibility, learn at own pace, get content before class, use time more productively, be more prepared, opportunity to revise & get more feedback)
    • Be explicit about the changes to teacher and learner roles and responsibilities (e.g. learners taking more responsibility for their learning and teacher as designer and facilitator).
    • Thoughtfully consider how to design integrated, quality learning experiences (consider learning outcomes, flow, linkages, and opportunities for students to experience a rich and active connection across online and classroom experiences)
    • Develop high quality, challenging and meaningful activities
    • Plan opportunities for students to continually monitor their learning, gain feedback and clarify their understanding.
    • Take the time to plan and design active, collaborative and challenging academic activities that involve enriching educational experiences where student feel ‘legitimated’ and supported in their university learning
    • Make sure that students have good reasons to engage (what’s their “Return On (engagement) Investment”?)
    • Own your presence and expertise through establishing your teacher identity, being responsive, supporting shared experiences and establishing effective communication online and in class.
    • Remember that student learning, behaviours and achievement are framed and driven by assessment
    • Motivate students to do well in and beyond university through opportunities to relate their learning to real world challenges and practices
    • Make linkages between students’ new knowledge, capabilities and skills and future employability.
    • Encourage and support teachers to succeed as a team supported effort and by ensuring adequate preparation, realistic timelines and sufficient time allocation
    • Provide innovative, just-in-time support and academic development that enables teachers to succeed in ways that are efficient, sustainable and scalable
    • Address teacher beliefs with evidence that can change ‘habits’ and practices to ensure flipped classrooms succeed.

Finally, remember that flipped classrooms offer a powerful approach to learning and teaching when they are effectively and thoughtfully designed and implemented. According to our student and teachers, traditional teaching and learning resources, activities and assessment cannot simply be transferred into a FLC mode. They need to be specifically adapted (or created) to ensure better results.

If you or your teachers need help with designing and implementing flipped classrooms, our flipped classroom workshops can set you up for success. Click here for more information.

Additionally, here are some resources on flipped learning to help you get started: