The Flipped Classroom: A Sneak Peek at Blended by Michael Horn and Heather Staker

Below is an excerpt from Michael Horn and Heather Staker’s new book, Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, which will be released this November. If you’re interested in learning more about disruptive innovation, check out the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. And if you like this sneak peek, you can preorder your copy of Blended here.

The Flipped Classroom
[from Chapter 1: “What Is Blended Learning?”]

The third type of Rotation [blended learning] model, and the one that has received the most attention in the press to this point, is the Flipped Classroom, so named because it flips the typical function of the classroom on its head. In a classroom that’s flipped, students consume online lessons or lectures independently—whether at home or during a homework period on campus. Time in the classroom, previously reserved for teacher instruction, is instead spent on what we used to call homework, with teachers providing assistance as needed.1

How can this improve student learning? Homework and lecture time have merely been switched. Students still learn through a lecture, and many online lectures are primitive videos.

Although there is some truth in this characterization, it misses the key insight behind the Flipped Classroom. If some students don’t understand what is presented in a real-time classroom lecture, they have little recourse. The teacher can try to slow down or speed up to adjust to differentiated needs, but inevitably, too fast for one student is too slow for another. Moving the delivery of basic instruction online gives students the opportunity to hit rewind or fast-forward according to their speed of mastery. Students decide what to watch and when, which—theoretically at least—gives them greater ownership over their learning.

Viewing lectures online may not seem to differ much from the traditional homework reading assignment, but there is at least one critical difference: Classroom time is no longer spent taking in raw content, a largely passive process. Instead, while at school, students do practice problems, discuss issues, or work on projects. The classroom becomes a time for active learning, which thousands of research studies on learning indicate is far more effective than passive learning.2 “From cognitive science, we hear that learning is a process of moving information from short-term to long-term memory,” said Terry Aladjem of Harvard University’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. “Assessment research has proven that active learning does that best.”3

Jon Bergmann and Aaron Simms, science teachers at Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, Colo., began flipping their classrooms in 2007; many regard them as the pioneers of the Flipped Classroom at the high school level. “The key question,” Bergmann says, “is what is the best use of your face-to-face class time? I would argue, at least in my case, that it was not me standing in front of my students yakking. That was not the correct answer; the correct answer was hands-on activities, inquiry- and project-based learning, and all those things that we have known that research has borne out to be effective and meaningful and important.”4

In 2013 the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation gave $1.5 million in grants to Idaho schools to try Khan Academy, mostly through a Flipped Classroom model. Forty-eight schools and 12,000 Idaho students took part in the pilot project. Shelby Harris, a middle school math teacher at Kuna Middle School, says that as a result of this pilot, she no longer lectures in class. Instead she works with students one-on-one or in small groups. “In some ways it feels less. . . teacher-ish,” she said. “You almost have to redefine how you see yourself as a teacher.” She regards herself now as a sideline coach, or even cheerleader.5

Examples from the Christensen Institute’s Blended Learning Universe (BLU) of other schools that use the Flipped Classroom include those in the Stillwater Area Public School District in Minnesota, the Achievement First Charter Schools throughout New York and Connecticut, the Binah School for Jewish education in Massachusetts, the Catholic Schools Diocese of Phoenix, and the Dongpyeong Middle School in Busan, South Korea.6




Educators, parents, and students are approaching the tipping point in a digital transformation that will forever change the way the world learns. If online learning has not already rocked your local school, then it will soon.

Five years after the first publication of Disrupting Class, the field is ready for a companion guide that provides the “how to” guidance for which educators are clamoring. Blended: The Field Guide to Disrupting Class will help leaders, teachers, and other stakeholders interested in a more student-centered system understand how to begin. It provides a step-by-step framework, responsive to the frequently asked questions from education leaders who are trying to implement blended learning. The goal is for every reader to have the necessary expertise to go forth with confidence and build the next generation of K–12 learning environments.



    1. This section about the Flipped Classroom is adapted from Michael B. Horn’s article entitled “The Transformational Potential of Flipped Classrooms,” Education Next, Summer 2013, Vol. 13, No. 3, (accessed September 10, 2013).


  • Craig Lambert, “Twilight of the Lecture,” Harvard Magazine, March-April 2012, (accessed Sep. 10, 2012). The article also highlights Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard University, who has been an advocate for flipping the classroom at the higher-education level since he first tried it in 1990. He sees education as a two-step process: information transfer, and then making sense of and assimilating the information. “In the standard approach, the emphasis in class is on the first, and the second is left to the student on his or her own outside the classroom,” he said. “If you think about this rationally, you have to flip that, and put the first one outside the classroom, and the second inside.”


In addition, cognitive science research shows that “active processing” is a key ingredient in learning. Its importance is explained as follows: “learning occurs when people engage in appropriate cognitive processing during learning, such as attending to relevant material, organizing the material into a coherent structure, and integrating it with what they already know.” in Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer, e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2008), p. 36.

See also Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman, How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2010), p. 132. The section describes the research on the importance of using active reading strategies.

  • Stephen Noonoo, “Flipped Learning Founders Set the Record Straight,” THE Journal, Jun. 20, 2012, (accessed September 10, 2013). For more information about how to flip the classroom, see the book by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams entitled Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education: 2012).




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