Flippin’ Learning, Not Classrooms: Simple Ways to Increase Student Engagement

Special Guest Contributor Andrew H. Potter

As I speak at educator conventions across the country, I have found the chorus of voices around the “flipped classroom” to be reaching a crescendo. Indeed, it seems that to have a proposal accepted for presentation, the educator is advised to include some derivative of the word “flip” in the session title (Hint: Using “flippin” without the “g” is apparently more cool and increases the likelihood of your proposal acceptance by 50%–note example above).

On a more serious note, I find the conversation around the “flipped classroom” extremely engaging. Participating in presentations and dialogues around the “flipped classroom”, it is clear that educators possess very different definitions of what it means to be “flipped”. Most importantly, some educators are too quick to equate a “flipped classroom” with “flipped learning”. Sometimes, what appears to be labeled as “flipped” is really nothing more than repositioning where and when traditional didactic pedagogy might occur. What I find confusing is that we sometimes think that by simply changing the logistics of instruction, we will, therefore, improve pedagogy and ultimately outcomes.

In my opinion, conversations around the “flipped classroom” should really be focused on “flipped learning”. We might attempt to define this as a pedagogical methodology that emphasizes at least two critical components in pursuit of the goal of student learning–not simply a different classroom structure:

  • Personalized Learning – Pedagogy that can be individualized and differentiated, that empowers self-regulation of learning towards the goal of high achievement via multiple trajectories.
  • Inquiry-Based Learning – Exploration, questioning, and guided dialogue are the primary tools in this pedagogical approach as opposed to a pedagogy dominated by didactic instruction.

Basically, we are looking to increase the volume of active learning by driving up student engagement and personal investment in the activity of learning.

Recent advances in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and pedagogical philosophy indicate at least five simple ways that educators can positively impact student engagement by “flippin’ learning”.

  1. Build a Learner-Centric Ecosystem – Educators should emphasize an overall learning design that is personalized and adaptive.
  2. Commit to a Participatory Instructional Design – Educator’s should double down on the inclusion of active, multi-sensory engagement within the overall learning ecosystem.
  3. Foster Social Relationships – Educator’s should purposely design opportunities for students, parents, and teachers to collaborate and connect with each other as human beings.
  4. Leverage Brain-Based Insights – While legitimate debate exists here, educators should incorporate insights from neuroscience to contribute to a learning design that amplifies cognition.
  5. Enable Competency-based Assessments – Educators should empower students with the opportunity and the ability to transfer knowledge and skills and apply them in new contexts.

At Envision, we have found that when the above strategies are implemented correctly, we are able to maximize student engagement in the learning event so that learners can be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to compete and cooperate in tomorrow’s world. These strategies form the core of our learning ecosystem architecture that we call “Academy, Lab, Arena”:

  • Academy – The “Academy” design aims to ensure that every learner is equipped with the fundamental knowledge that they need to succeed in the learning environment while allowing them to explore areas that are most aligned to their passions and interests.
  • Lab – The “Lab” design emphasizes hands-on, immersive learning experiences that require students to build relationships and collaborate to succeed in relevant, real-world problem-solving. Additionally, current neuroscience research demonstrates that it is these multi-sensory experiences that amplify long-term memory.
  • Arena – The “Arena” design enables students to transfer their learning to a new context or challenge where they can demonstrate competency via presentation, competition, or debate. These challenge episodes empower “event memory”, which we know positively influences the limbic system to drive memory.

So that next time you think about “flippin” your class, make sure that you are “flippin” the learning as well.

Extension Activity #1:

Restructure a learning activity so that students have to do the main learning (reading, research, etc.) at home. Back in the classroom, have students share and apply their learning in an activity or discussion. Close with a reflection on how the learning experience differed from previous learning experiences, including what skills they needed to apply, what kinds of help they asked for/received, and how it made them feel about taking responsibility for their own learning.

Extension Activity #2:

If your students are interested in learning more about innovative thinking and design processes, check out IDEO’sDesign Kit” resources (Mindsets, Methods, and Case Studies), as well as their approach to human-centered design and Stanford Design School’s Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking!

Additional Resources

For more classroom resources to support early career conversations, download these tools:

Then, if your students enjoy this activity, consider nominating them for an Envision program. To learn more about these experiences, watch a short student testimonial video and then visit DiscoverEnvision.com.

Andrew H. Potter is the Chief Academic Officer at Envision, one of the nation’s leading college and career readiness organizations. In this role, he directs the organization’s academic strategy and oversees the development of faculty, curriculum, methods, and pedagogy that annually enable 25,000 students to find their passion, try out a career, and build a pathway to get there. Learn more at Envision Experience .


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