How To Increase Student Engagement Online: Flip the Classroom
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How To Increase Student Engagement Online: Flip the Classroom

Wakeboarder making a backflip

The sudden switch to remote learning has put higher-ed educators between a rock and a hard place. The rock: limited face time with students. The hard place: online lectures that are inherently passive and unengaging.  

To keep students interested in the course, instructors need to make the most of every last minute of precious class time. Peer learning is the future of remote learning and the antidote to boring, ineffective classroom lectures. But it can be tough to make space for collaborative learning activities when there is so much curriculum to get through.

There’s a way to increase engagement and participation while also giving students enough time to master course material. To find that space, we have to completely upend our expectations of what a classroom experience should look like. We have to flip the classroom.

Flipped classrooms are an increasingly popular strategy in K-12 learning, but it can be equally effective for online higher education. Flipping your online classroom helps boost student engagement and retention by allowing you to devote classroom time to higher-level active learning activities instead of lectures.

The concept is simple, but to successfully “flip” a classroom, educators will have to rethink how they structure their courses and class time completely.

What Does It Mean to “Flip the Classroom”?

Flipping the classroom is an instructional strategy that reverses the traditional approach to classroom instruction. Before each class period, students learn course material by reading, watching online lectures, or doing short e-courses. The instructor dedicates class time to higher-order thinking activities that let students apply their recently learned knowledge.

Compare that with the traditional teaching paradigm, where instructors teach course material during class time through passive lectures or demonstrations. Students are then assigned homework to evaluate, analyze, or synthesize the information they learned during class time.

Flipped classrooms initially gained popularity as a form of blended learning, which combines both in-person and online learning elements. Students watched prepared videos online to learn the content before class and then, during class, discussed what they learned.

In this article, we’re applying the term to fully remote learning. Students learn class materials asynchronously — on their own time and at their own pace. Then, they use synchronous class time to participate in online discussions or other collaborative learning activities.

Flipped Classrooms Boost Engagement

Students who learn in flipped classrooms report greater engagement and better test results than students in traditional didactic classroom environments. To understand why, look to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Development.

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The most basic learning levels are lower-order thinking skills, like remembering, understanding, and applying knowledge. The skills are far easier for students to grasp, yet they are the focus of most classroom time. Meanwhile, higher-order thinking skills, like analyzing, evaluating, and creating new materials, are assigned as homework via essays and personal projects. These skills are far more complicated and might benefit from peer collaboration or an instructor’s guidance, yet they are typically left for students to deal with on their own time.

Flipped classrooms increase student engagement by relegating lower-order learning activities to the student’s own time and making space for collaborative, higher-level learning during class time. That way, instructors can guide the students through exercises and get better insight into who understands the materials and who is struggling. Students have more opportunities to ask questions and get personalized help as they work through the material using higher-order thinking skills.

Another significant benefit of flipped classrooms is that they leave ample room for active learning, leading to better engagement and deeper understanding. Instead of passively watching a professor lecture, students have the opportunity to interact with each other via classroom discussions or group projects. Although online learning can be inherently isolating, this peer learning helps build community and ultimately leads to better performance.

How to Flip Your Online Classroom

There are many different ways to set up a flipped classroom online, but they all involve pairing curated asynchronous class materials with guided, interactive learning during class time.

When organizing a flipped classroom, it’s useful to consider the four pillars of flipped learning:

  • Flexible Environment: Flipped classrooms require less rigid timelines and structures than traditional courses. Students choose when and where they do their asynchronous learning. Professors are flexible with their learning timelines based on their assessment of student comprehension.
  • Learning Culture: In a traditional classroom, teachers impart all knowledge to students, but students are responsible for their learning in a flipped classroom.
  • Intentional Content: Carefully choose how to present asynchronous learning content. It’s not enough to ask students to watch prerecorded lecture videos; content needs to be interesting and interactive.
  • Professional Educator: In a flipped classroom, the educator’s role changes from an imparter of knowledge to a facilitator of learning. To do that effectively, teachers must be properly trained in encouraging and facilitating online collaborative learning.

Keep those guidelines in mind as we look at how to execute a flipped classroom on a practical level.

Asynchronous content mastery

Create out-of-class learning programs that are interesting and hold students accountable for their learning. While many older models of flipped classrooms hinge on prerecorded lectures, they have proved to be an ineffective learning method.

Instead, create learning flows that require students to actively engage with the material. Consider our template course on cognitive biases in psychology. Students participate in a thought experiment that demonstrates how cognitive bias works. Afterward, they watch a video about cognitive bias and do some background reading. By the end, they have a solid grasp of the subject and can readily discuss it in class.

Include mandatory activities to ensure that students complete the assignment before class. After doing the lesson, have students answer a few questions or post their thoughts on a group discussion board.

Learning flows are more and interactive and engaging than merely doing some reading or listening to a lecture. The two components, learning and assessment, ensure that students will show up to class prepared for higher-level thinking activities.

Synchronous Classroom Time

Devote your precious time with students to active, collaborative learning activities that help them evaluate, analyze, and synthesize materials.

Remote collaborative learning activities take a little more thought and preparation than in-person ones, but they are equally rewarding. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Classroom debates: Appoint students to represent two sides of a timely or controversial issue, and have them present arguments defending their position.
  • Breakout discussions: Divide the class into smaller breakout rooms, and have students discuss a question, issue, or problem. At the end of the session, have each group report on their conclusions.
  • Jigsaw: Break the class up into groups of four or five students. Have each individual in the group research a different issue or component of the broader subject. During class time, have them come together and share their findings.
  • Seminars: Have students take turns leading a class discussion on a topic they have researched.

In all of these scenarios, the students are primarily interacting and learning from one another. It’s the instructor’s role to monitor activities, answer questions, and keep an eye out for students who are struggling or aren’t participating.

How to Increase Student Engagement: Respect Your Student’s Time

If you use your valuable classroom time to promote higher learning rather than give flat lectures, your students will be more engaged and will ultimately learn more. But to make a flipped classroom work, you also need to leverage students’ time out of the classroom effectively.

A flipped class works only if students do the preclass background learning. Students have limited time to devote to studying, and they won’t do it if they are too busy or if the content is too dull. Effective asynchronous learning relies heavily on using the right tools to keep students interested and engaged, even without a teacher breathing directly down their neck. Check out Eduflow’s extensive library of learning templates for ideas on structuring this out of class learning time for maximum effectiveness.

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