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The 4 Pillars of Flipped Learning – The Keys to Successful Flipped Instruction

A “Shift in Learning Culture” and the “Necessity of Professional Educators” are 2 of 4 Essential Elements of a Well Designed Flipped Learning Environment.

Last month, the Flipped Learning Network announced it’s definition of Flipped Learning, which has generated a lot of media attention. This definition actually goes back to a report released last year, but I am glad to see this getting the attention it deserves. One of my favorite parts of the original publication, which has been reiterated in the recent announcement, is the definition of “4 Pillars of Flipped Learning”.

The 4 Pillars

“Just as no two traditional classrooms are identical, such is the case with flipped classrooms”. So quotes A Review of Flipped Learning, the document in which the definition and pillars were first delivered. “A cadre of experienced educators from the Flipped Learning Network, along with Pearson’s School Achievement Services … identified the key features, or pillars, of flipped classrooms that allow Flipped Learning to occur”.Pillars of Flipped Learning image(Image from A Review of Flipped Learning)

Here I offer these 4 Pillars, with some of my own supporting explanations (combined with some content from the original report – all of the quoted references are from A Review of Flipped Learning).


Successful flipped learning required flexible learning spaces, as well as flexibility of how learning is delivered and assessed. The flipped classroom can be a busy, noisy place when students are working in different configurations, with or without the teacher, to apply learning. This creates a frequent need for flexible spaces, and a classroom layout conducive to working in small or large groups. I would add, however that not having such a space available should not preclude one from considering the use of flipped teaching and learning techniques.

How students are being assessed in a highly functional flipped teaching and learning environment can require flexibility in approach. “Educators build appropriate assessments systems that objectively measure understanding in a way that is meaningful for students and the teacher.”


This is undoubtedly a vital element of true flipped learning. Moving from the “Sage on the Stage” model to a “Guide on the Side” approach is essential, and it may not be easy for many educators. I love lecturing to a room full of students about a topic that inspires me. Working through the shift to delivering more learning content outside of class and using class time to review, apply, and reinforce learning take work, planning, and practice. But if that change isn’t made, learning isn’t really changing and evolving in a positive way.

Along the same lines, I have heard many teachers explain that they are concerned about increasing the amount of work needing to be done outside of class, as it can be hard to get students to do it. I was intrigued to hear Tom Mennella of Bay Path College explain in his excellent presentation at NERCOMP 2014 last month how he has defined a rule of “1-to-1”: he does not exceed more than one hour of assigned work outside of class for each hour spent in class. While we all know the “2 for 1” rule, we also know it is increasingly unrealistic, particularly for busy higher education and high school students (especially if their lives require them to have jobs). The effectiveness of a well designed flipped classroom will yield more effective use of students’ time and can make a 1-to-1 approach realistic and efficient.


Well researched content is vital in the flipped classroom. With the shift to more learning outside of the classroom, the content moves from playing a “supporting” role to playing a central role. “Educators use Intentional Content to maximize classroom time in order to adopt various methods of instruction such as active learning strategies, peer instruction, problem-based learning, or mastery or Socratic methods, depending on grade level and subject matter.”


Another extremely important element of robust flipped learning is … a great teacher! It is so important and so appreciated that this has been identified as a pillar of Flipped Learning. Too often, the media plays to teacher’s fears that there is some sort of conspiracy to replace them with automated teachers. This is absurd. The Flipped Classroom allows teachers to do what the should strive to do best – work with students to ensure that they learning the material being covered, and inspire them to take more control of their own learning!

I know I am not the only grateful for the work of the Flipped Learning Network and Pearson Education in putting together this report and the formal definition of Flipped Learning. I am also honored to have been included in the original report,

“Flipped Learning is also being used in higher education, and results have been documented in student academic performance and student and instructor morale. Kelly Walsh, Chief Information Officer at the College of Westchester in White Plains, NY, became interested in how instructional technologies and tools could be used to improve learning outcomes by making learning more engaging and more productive for students and teachers. He reported on several higher education institutions that have successfully implement Flipped Learning models. The short cases that follow were included in Walsh’s implementation report (2010) …” (Page 10 of the report).

It is quite a privilege to think that my contributions may have played a role (however tiny!) in influencing the formal definition of Flipped Learning. Of course, this is nothing compared to what good teachers accomplish in their classes every day. Hopefully, these guidelines help teachers, administrators, technologists, and other educators understand what flipped learning is, how to do it well, and why it makes sense.


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