How to use flipped learning to support your learners

Flipped Learning Podcast with Ollie Wood

Ollie Wood is an ELT writer and teacher trainer with an MA in TEFL/SL. He is an expert in CLIL methodology, and the use of technology inside and outside of the classroom. In this article, Ollie talks about Flipped Learning, what it is, how it works, its challenges, benefits – and also it can help you teach students of all levels and ages.

Listen to Ollie Speak about Flipped learning on the Pearson English Podcast

What is flipped learning?

To understand better what flipped learning is, first let’s see how it differs from blended learning, a term with which it is often confused. 

Blended learning is a way of teaching that combines face-to-face classroom teaching with online resources. We freely use online resources to create a more personalized learning experience. 

Flipped learning is a little different. As the name suggests, it ‘flips’ a  traditional lesson. It tells us exactly which stages of the lesson should go online. In a flipped learning class, all of the more traditional aspects, or study stages, are completed online and the homework, or application stages, come into the classroom. 

Let’s look at an example. 

A typical receptive skills lesson normally has six stages: 

  1. Lead in
  2. Set context
  3. Pre-teach vocabulary
  4. Gist task
  5. Detailed task
  6. Follow up

With a traditional teaching model, we do the first five stages in class and set the last one for homework. With flipped learning there are a few ways to tackle these stages, but a basic model would look like this:

Stage Procedure
Lead in These stages go at the end of one class to generate interest in the next lesson and the text.
Set context
Pre-teach vocabulary These stages go online for the students to work through at their own pace, before the next lesson.
Gist task
Detailed task
Follow up The next lesson should start with a review of the text and feedback on the two tasks. Then we can follow up with a discussion, debate, role-play, project, etc.


What are the benefits of flipped learning?

Flipped learning benefits both teachers and students. Teachers no longer have to guess at the knowledge level of their students, which means we no longer need to ‘teach to the middle’. This is because we can make all the material available and everyone can work through it at their own pace: stronger students can work quickly, students that find it more challenging can take their time. A related benefit for students is that they can tackle the material when they are most alert. After all, not everyone is at their best at 08:30 on a Monday morning.

What are the main challenges?

The first challenge is technology. Teachers and students must have access to computers and/or mobiles and digital resources – flipped learning depends entirely on it. Even if we assume that everyone has access to some form of technology, not all technology is equal and so teachers need to find out what their students have access to and design their flipped classrooms around these limitations. 

A related challenge is the technological learning curve. Don’t assume that everyone can competently use the technology involved – even if they are young. So start slowly and introduce one tool or app at a time and spend time showing your students how it works, or direct them to a tutorial. 

One other challenge is the problem of students not doing the work outside of the classroom, which obviously has a negative impact on the follow up lesson. Although we can’t force students to do their work at home, we show them the benefits of coming to class prepared. In short, if they do all of the study stages, the lesson will be fun and engaging as they get to apply their knowledge through communicative group activities.

Does flipped learning really work?

Teachers that decide to flip their classrooms say that it is more effective than using a traditional teaching model. Although this is only anecdotal, flipped learning is actually making use of two well-researched techniques: active learning and student-centered learning.

Active learning is a method of learning where the students are actively involved in the learning process. Research in this area clearly shows that students cannot reach their full potential by passively listening to the teacher and filling in worksheets. They must engage in higher-order thinking tasks like analysis, synthesis, and evaluation – all the things that flipped learning allows more time for.

Student-centered learning develops learner autonomy and independence by making the students responsible for their own learning. Furthermore, student-centered learning better prepares students for life outside of education because it enables lifelong learning and independent problem-solving. 

Can I use flipped learning with Young Learners?

Flipped learning requires students to have a certain degree of autonomy . Because of this, the approach as described above generally isn’t suitable for young learners. However, if we change what we put online, flipped learning can also make young learner lessons more effective. 

In the young learner classroom, a lot of time is spent on giving instructions and modeling activities. An enormous amount of time can be saved here if teachers make videos of the instructional material and put that online for the students to watch and understand at home. 

It’s true that young learners will need some help from a parent or guardian, but it should be no more time consuming than the amount of help that they would normally receive to do a homework task. Furthermore, after a few rounds of this, most learners will become self-sufficient as they are only being asked to watch and understand a video of their teacher giving instructions. 

With the instructions done at home, the teacher can now set up activities more quickly and spend more time helping the students engage in the activity itself.

What does the future hold for flipped learning?

Flipped learning is more important than ever. Due to Covid-19 and associated lockdowns many teachers have already had to embrace online teaching. What’s more, lots of teachers who are going back into the classroom are having to deliver hybrid lessons, where half the class is watching at home and the other students are present in the classroom. 

This makes flipped learning a very natural approach to take. It ensures that all students are getting the same study material, which they can refer back to at any time. Then, in class the teacher can start lessons by clarifying and answering any questions. This is a much easier task than having to explain concepts from scratch to a mix of live and virtual students. The rest of the class time can be used for activities that require students to apply their new knowledge. For the students at home, the teacher can make use of breakout rooms. Again, all of this is more easily done with the time saved using flipped learning.

Where can I learn more?

Listen to the latest Pearson English Podcast where Ollie discusses Flipped Learning and its benefits with the panel. 

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