You may have heard the buzz around the flipped classroom. Here’s a brief summary of what it is, how it works, and the ways it changes the roles of faculty and students in the classroom.

What is it?

The idea is that the professor produces a video lecture. Then, students watch the lecture prior to class. During class time, the students and professor synthesize and apply the concepts learned.  “So, the order of the lecture and homework components of the class are, well — flipped.” [1]

Is this a new idea?

While the approach has roots in the early days of computer-based instruction, it’s gaining popularity today given how easy it is to record a video from your desktop and share it with your students via the YouTube, Vimeo, or even Kaltura.

How does it work?

Video lectures can be used to provide the students with “domain knowledge” such as facts, procedures, and concepts necessary to solve problems. Video lectures can also be accompanied by practice exercises to test remembering, understanding and even application knowledge. The Khan Academy has many examples of this.[2]

Some argue that video lectures give students more time to reflect on the lecture content. By watching the videos in advance of class students can come to class prepared to discuss the lecture and ask questions.

Now that the lecture is out of the way, what happens in the classroom?

The classroom becomes a place for discussion, observation, practice, and collaboration. The students are the center of the classroom learning, rather than the instructor.

For example, to support the development of expertise, you’d probably want to ask your students to solve real world problems in an authentic context.  However, since the students start out as novices they may need help along the way. In this case, the professor’s role is to model, coach and scaffold the learning process. This can’t be done through direct instruction or lecturing.

Instead, when students need guidance, the professor illustrates the strategies and knowledge experts use to solve problems. [3]

Moreover, during the problem solving process the instructor provides immediate feedback to address and correct any student misconceptions.

This approach can facilitate the acquisition and integration of domain knowledge presented in the video lecture. In addition, students begin to obtain higher level expert knowledge such a control strategies (monitoring the problem solving process), learning strategies (how new knowledge is acquired if your current knowledge set is insufficient for solving a problem), and heuristic strategies (the tricks of the trade). [4]

The figure below illustrates the difference between the traditional lecture-based teaching model and the flipped classroom approach to education.

What’s the role of the professor?

Professors can demonstrate their truest skills as teachers and experts in their respective domains through:

Presenting Present the facts and procedures via video lecture.
Modeling The professor demonstrates the problem solving process in class. Here students observe the expert solving a problem and ask questions.
Scaffolding The professor provides the necessary assistance to help students solve a problem, that they would perhaps be unable to solve without the assistance of the expert (or professor). Here the professor may be sharing tricks of the trade or providing additional resources to help students solve the problem.
Coaching The professor is observing the students in “action” and providing immediate feedback. This works well when students are working in groups. Here the professor immediately identifies misconceptions with the students.

What’s the role of the student?


Collaborating Students are working in groups in class to solve problems and form conclusions. The instructor intervenes as necessary to help students move along the right pathway.
Watching Students watch the video lectures created by the professor and take notes.
Practicing Students apply the techniques that they were shown during the video lecture.
Discussing Students discuss the content of the lecture with one another and the professor. Students ask questions. The instructor provides demonstrations.
Testing Student work to test hypotheses and assumptions in practice. The instructor provides feedback along the way.

Questions for consideration

The main reason to flip a class is to provide more class time for learning that is student centered. [5]

Consider the types of content you could communicate to your students via video. What activities would you want students to do prior to class based on the video lecture to ensure they are prepared to pursue a deeper understanding of the content in-class? How would your classroom change?  How would it stay the same?

Originally published on November 26, 2012 at:

Thanks for Adam Brandenburger, Maya Georgieva, and Steven Goss for the feedback on the original article. Thanks to Steven Goss for providing the sketch.
[1] Bennett, B., Kern, J. , Gudenrath, A. and McIntosh, P. (2012).The flipped class: What does a good one look like. Retrieved from
[2] See the Random Walk challenge by the Khan Academy for an example:
[3] This is known as cognitive apprenticeship from Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Newman, S. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453-494). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
[4] Williams, S. (1992). Putting case-based instruction into context: Examples from legal and medical education. The Journal of Learning Sciences. Vol. 2 (4). pp. 367-427
[5] To learn more about what a flipped classroom is and isn’t, review this article by Jon Bergmann, Jerry Overmyer and Brett Wilie.


The Flipped Classroom: A primer