Don’t Flip Out! Use Your Own Blend

Flipped classrooms are media sensations but is it true blended learning? By Jeff Gerlach.

On a recent edition of the CBS Evening News, blended learning snatched three minutes of the nation’s time. Specifically classroom flipping, the outspoken narrowly focused branch of blended instruction, was the topic du jour.

I appreciate the basic premise of the flipped classroom; outsourcing direct instruction to the online space. It offers quite a few enhancements to the learning environment. Students can watch video lectures anywhere, setting aside time in their schedules to absorb the information. They can pause, fast forward, rewind, and replay lectures; culling all the information they need at a pace that is comfortable to them. Applying due diligence will help them avoid missing stuff that they otherwise might in the traditional one-time-only lecture format. It also gives them contemplation time. It’s hard to facilitate a particularly informed discussion in a traditionally styled lecture, students need time to formulate the kinds of questions and observations necessary to have meaningful discussions about newly learned information. Watching lectures at home and customizing the scope of reflection will prepare students to engage in this kind of activity the next day. Not to mention, the teacher isn’t repeating the same lecture five times a day and is now free to personalize the learning of every student via a facilitation role in the F2F classroom. Online direct instruction is a tool of blended learning that I fully support because it takes a cookie cutter pedagogy and introduces a bit of customizability.

Yet, the flipped movement is too narrowly focused in their vision of blended learning. It suggests that all instruction can be boiled down to two separate elements; lecture and homework. By ‘flipping’ homework to the classroom and outsourcing lectures to home students will receive more help on their ‘homework’. While this provides a clear enhancement in terms of individualized instruction, it lacks full personalization.

What if a student had a rough night at home and the lecture didn’t get watched? What if the student wants to re-watch a lecture while they work on an assignment in class? Can they watch the lecture in school the next day? I doubt it. In a flipped environment I fear that they might get left behind. There is still a strict linear progression to a flipped class, it’s just in reverse order from a traditional F2F. We need to do better to accommodate more than just learning styles, we need to accommodate lifestyles.

Flipping constrains time and place whereas the whole of blended learning is a concept with lots more flexibility. As a blended learning teacher, feel free to provide online lectures… but feel free to use the online environment to facilitate discussion, engage students with interactive elements, and generally use the online space to enhance learning. The online space is a wonderful platform to provide a variety of learning choices that allow for customized learning paths. Don’t waste it by only providing one way lectures.

Diversify. Mix and match. Paint with the full palette.

The beauty of blended instruction is that online elements add to the richness of the F2F environment, not replace it. How are you blending instruction to accommodate your students’ specific needs? What specific things have you done to personalize and customize learning for you students?

Jeff Gerlach (@JGer1) is a blended learning coach at Michigan Virtual University. Originally published on February 7, 2014 at

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