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Is Reverse Instruction Education Technology’s Perfect Storm?

by Kelly Walsh on April 8, 2012


Flipping the classroom is a technology-enabled technique that can make a significant difference in student learning and academic success, and is well suited for gradual widespread adoption.

Having been immersed in the world of education and instructional technologies for a good number of years now, I often think about which technologies can truly make a difference. Which technologies, or technology enabled techniques, are most likely to have a significant impact on student learning and really help teachers succeed? This question has taken on even more meaning in light of the increased controversy in recent years about ed tech spending in our schools (more on that below).

reverse instruction quote imageFor those still new to the concept, “reverse instruction” is the idea of having students consume learning content (i.e. ‘the lecture’) outside of the classroom, usually as homework, thereby freeing up valuable face-to-face classroom time to reinforce materials and work on assigned work (work that may have been homework in the traditional classroom). This approach is also referred to as “flipping the classroom”.

Positioning the teacher to be available in the classroom to help with assigned work can provide for a more personalized learning experience. There are many other benefits to this model, some of which are listed below (click here to access a number of articles from teachers describing their experiences working with a flipped classroom model).

The Flipped Classroom is still in the early stages of adoption, but high profile advocates like Sal Khan are helping this instructional technology concept gain momentum. Khan’s work with the Khan Academy has been a major catalyst in bringing this concept to the attention of the media and to the general population (learn more about the Khan Academy here).

Reasons why reverse instruction is a powerful instructional technology concept, worthy of adoption by schools and teachers everywhere.
Here’s a list of reasons why the flipped classroom is a great idea that needs to be embraced and encouraged by teachers, administrators, parents, and students in middle grades and higher.

  • It is simple and inexpensive to get started with (learn how here).
  • Many instructors are already doing this to some extent (when they provide reading or video homework, for example).
  • Instructors can ease into this at their own pace, and choose their approach. Tech-savvy teachers can easily get started creating their own content with free Internet tools, and those who are less tech-friendly can leverage the extensive body of learning content that is already available.
  • Students can review ‘flipped’ course materials repeatedly outside of the classroom, at their own convenience, often on the device of their choosing (smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc).
  • Students who miss class because of other responsibilities or illness do not have to be ‘penalized’ by missing course content.
  • There are tens of thousands of educational videos that can be used as flipped classroom content available for free right now (see this post to learn about seven such resources). 
  • There are also countless other education content resources available on the Internet such as the growing body of Open Education Resources and the ever-expanding body of articles other written content on the web.
  • Using a ‘flipped textbook’ can provide a far more efficient and effective learning experience than the traditional textbook (check out the work of Kieran Mathieson and ‘Coredogs’ to learn more).
  • It provides an excellent opportunity to select and leverage top-notch lecturers and other high quality learning materials.
  • Reverse Instruction provides a great situation in which to take advantage of a wide variety of powerful instructional technologies, including screencasting, lecture capture, podcasting, presentation tools, learning and course management systems, open educational resources, and more.
  • There is a growing body of learning analytics tools being incorporated into reverse instruction tools. Flipped classroom content delivery systems with learning analytics built in can be a perfect marriage of two instructional technology concepts that can lay a powerful foundation for exploring and expanding on the potential of personalized learning.

Are there other reasons you would like to see added to this list? I know I haven’t exhausted the reasons why reverse instruction makes too much sense to ignore, so if you have something to add, please comment below and share your insights.

An opportunity not to repeat the mistakes of the past
There are a wide variety of technologies that can play a role in improving learning outcomes, and many of these are being adopted to some extent by teachers and schools across the world. Unfortunately, there are also technology implementations that have given the overall concept of education technology a bit of a bad name, often due to inadequate planning and vague goals. Using flipped classroom techniques could help to reverse that trend (pun intended!).

For example, some school districts have placed interactive white boards in all of their classrooms but failed to work with faculty in a way that would truly facilitate widespread adoption. Often, few teachers embrace these tools, resulting in a large expense with a pretty ineffective return. This frustrates many teachers and parents, and adds fuel to the fire for the anti-ed-tech crowd. Some “1 for 1” laptop and tablet distribution programs have traveled a similar path (not to say they are all bad programs – they can be very beneficial with proper planing and execution).

Conversely, it has been my experience that most teachers, administrators, parents, and students agree that technology has a place in learning and that there are many ways that technology can have a positive impact on instructional and learning processes (at appropriate grade levels - probably best introduced gradually starting around 3rd grade or so, IMHO, but that’s a whole different topic!).

A gradual adoption of reverse instruction techniques offers an opportunity to leverage a wide variety of instructional technologies in a way that doesn’t have to break the bank and can deliver many enhancements to the teaching and learning process. Successful incorporation of flipped classroom methods in our middle schools, high schools, and colleges could improve on the public’s perspective of how technology can play a powerful role in teaching, and facilitate the transformation of education that so many are calling for. Indeed, reverse instruction could very well be the ‘superman’ instructional technology idea that we’ve been waiting for.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Reverse Instruction Tools And Techniques – Screencasting
7 Stories From Educators About Teaching In The Flipped Classroom
Flipping the Classroom (Reverse Instruction) Post Category


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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