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How to Build a Better Flipped Classroom

Approx 4 minute read

By Dr. Matthew Vick, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

By Dr. Matthew Vick, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

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How to Build a Better Flipped Classroom

The term “flipped classroom” has been around for a while now, and the standard model is familiar: in terms of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, pre-class learning targets remembering, understanding, and basic applying of knowledge, while the in-class learning targets complex applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating knowledge.

As with many curricular ideas, this approach can be used transformatively, or it can be used in a way that is really nothing new. If a flipped classroom is just watching videos of lectures before class, is this much different than having assigned reading before a class meets?

Students can’t just “watch the video and be done with it.” They should also be expected to work a problem, write a reflection, or do some other sort of formative assessment task that requires them to interact with the content or demonstrate skills. Ideally, instructors should then modify their instructional plans for the face-to-face class based upon the results of these assessments. I’ve done this in my own classes, looking at mastery scores for topics covered outside of class to help me focus on areas where students are struggling most.

Yet there’s a greater opportunity in taking the flipped classroom a step further. Introducing adaptive learning presents several additional elements that help this approach truly become something new that can transform student learning.

The Next-Level Flipped Classroom

Adaptive learning does more than provide the opportunity for pre-class learning and assessment – it also can introduce greater depth and value into the learning activities themselves. Rather than simply completing lessons and initial assessments, students also receive feedback on the work they complete and have multiple pathways for continued learning based upon their performance.

This feedback includes not only whether they answered questions correctly, but also an overall score indicating their mastery of the topic at hand. Students who bring a large amount of prior knowledge may actually not even see some of the content in an adaptive course if the assessment indicates strong abilities or knowledge.

These varied pathways for learning are important because they allow students to independently attempt to learn the content in several different ways before the face-to-face class, thus allowing for some differentiation. Because this approach allows students to interact multiple times with content before class, basic re-teaching can occur during this “flipped” portion.

Many adaptive learning systems can also provide greater resources for instructors in terms of student learning analytics to help plan face-to-face instruction. Instead of just identifying quiz questions with common wrong answers, adaptive platforms often make predictions about students’ knowledge and understanding of specific topics. This allows instructors to see a measure of inferred mastery for broader content areas. For example, an adaptive system may be able to infer partial mastery of a related topic not included in the pre-class assignment. The machine learning algorithms make this prediction (and will correct it with additional use of the system), but the inferred level helps an instructor to plan an appropriate level of depth and difficulty in face-to-face classes.

How to Approach Course Design for the Flipped, Adaptive Classroom

So, how can you go about designing your course to fit with this flipped, adaptive model? The best place to start is with your learning objectives. The idea is to segment portions of the course that can be self-paced versus those that require sequences, and then identify how to make face-to-face sessions impactful and focused on application, synthesis, and analysis.

Note that this approach also can work with flipped classrooms using non-adaptive digital platforms, but the adaptive learning allows greater flexibility in terms of learning pathways while still using prerequisite knowledge as a guide for sequencing teaching and assessment.

Here are some guiding steps on how to classify your learning objectives to inform your course design:

1) List all of your course’s objectives at the granularity of outcomes for individual lessons (or smaller).
2) Which objectives do you feel are best accomplished during face-to-face sessions? (You may need to split apart objectives that are partially best for digital and partially best for face-to-face).
3) For the remaining objectives (those that are well suited to be learned digitally), which build on prior knowledge and which can be learned at any time within the course?

These steps leave you with two groups of objectives that logically can be fit into the digital portion of the course: objectives that need to be taught sequentially leading up to a face-to-face session and objectives that can be completed at virtually any time in a course before its conclusion. Both of these categories can include sequencing, but you’ve identified some flexibility for students in terms of their path through the content.

With the learning objectives classified, you can now proceed with designing the structure of the course and preparing the assessment and learning activities associated with each objective. The face-to-face objectives can also be fully developed at the level of application, analysis, or synthesis to fully engage students with meaningful learning.

Beyond the Adaptive Classroom

Having an adaptive mindset is just as important as using adaptive learning software. As an instructor, you should be flexibly charting your pathway through course development with an eye on continuous improvement. Some adaptive platforms partially do this through their machine learning algorithms making inferences about students’ knowledge states. Personally, I’ve updated my courses by shifting around elements in the adaptive learning system to improve the student learning experience by better grouping the pre-class elements. The content isn’t changed, but the analytics reports of student knowledge can be more usable in the face-to-face sessions.

Ultimately, adaptive learning should provide the opportunity for flexible, tailored digital learning before face-to-face sessions that can be modified to meet students where they are and to better lead them to applying and using new knowledge.


1. Tucker, Bill. (2012). The Flipped Classroom. Education Next. Retrieved from