October 19, 2021

The Flipped Classroom Model in the Age of Virtual Learning

by Emily Plauche, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, University of Mississippi Medical Center

Virtual learning played a huge role in higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020 when the pandemic first began to spread in the United States, educators had little time to transition to an online learning environment. Some schools gave students a few weeks off to allow time for administrators and teachers to make plans and learn how to use the technology while others immediately transitioned to an online platform with little guidance. Virtual teaching can be done synchronously via platforms such as Zoom and asynchronously using pre-recorded lectures or other online resources. Live classes allow for more interactive learning but may be limited by technical difficulties and students’ access to technology. Pre-recorded lectures provide students with more flexibility in terms of how and when they prefer to study, but students may feel disconnected from their classmates and instructors.1  In order to best recreate the flipped classroom model, asynchronous pre-class assignments with synchronous/ live in-class activities would be ideal. Now that the education system has had more time to adapt and is able to provide almost all features of an in-person classroom experience in a virtual platform, it raises the question of whether the flipped classroom model is still effective in a virtual learning setting.  Giving students the option to attend class in person or online may become common practice as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, technology advances, and our comfort with virtual learning grows. 

The flipped classroom model is a somewhat new teaching strategy that focuses on in-class application, rather than lecturing. Instead of homework after class, students complete pre-class assignments in order to prepare for class and class time is reserved for discussions, case studies, and other activities that require students to apply what they learned prior to class. The flipped class has become increasingly popular over the last decade. A meta-analysis studying the flipped classroom model in health professions education found that the model provided several benefits including a statistically significant improvement in learner performance compared with traditional teaching methods, more time for active learning during class time, and the opportunity for students to study at their own pace before class. The analysis also found that more students favored this method of learning over traditional lecturing. However, this model requires students to prepare ahead of time in order for the activities in class to be productive. The increased burden on the student can be a limitation to its success and should be considered when teachers assign out-of-class activities.2

Traditionally, pre-class assignments are done remotely via pre-recorded lectures and required readings, and the interactive classroom activity is done in person. However, COVID-19 required all learning activities to be done virtually. Educators wanting to implement this model while teaching virtually should provide both pre-recorded lectures and live but virtual classes in order to effectively mimic the model. The question is whether a flipped classroom model is still effective in an online learning environment. A study performed in Spain specifically compared performance and emotions towards the flipped classroom model in undergraduate STEM courses before and after the COVID-19 pandemic comparing two groups: “face to face” and “face to screen.” The course consisted of three hours of live class with pre-recorded lessons to watch in preparation for class in both groups. The instruction methodologies, syllabi, and structure were identical in both groups. The study did not disclose what type of assessments were used but the “pass rate” was similar in the two groups with 67.1% of students in the face-to-face group achieving a “passing” score compared with 70.3% in the face-to-screen group.  The difference was not statistically significant. Face-to-face instruction was associated with more positive emotions such as enthusiasm, confidence, tranquility, and fun while face-to-screen instruction was associated with more negative emotions including concern, nervousness, fear, and boredom.3

Some of these negative emotions observed in the face-to-screen group were likely influenced by the uncertainties at the beginning of the pandemic and were not solely due to virtual learning. As students become more acquainted with distant learning, it is likely the virtual classroom will be perceived less negatively. However, student engagement and attention in the virtual classroom may be persistent challenges. It is promising that there was not a statistically significant difference in performance between the groups, suggesting that the flipped classroom is an acceptable approach to teaching in a virtual setting.

Instructors can work to increase virtual student engagement by offering a variety of ways for students to participate. Some may prefer to use the microphone, type in a chat box, or use the raise hand feature. By offering multiple options, students are able to interact in a way that they feel most comfortable. Breakout rooms can also be used to facilitate work in small groups, which might reduce students' anxiety about taking in front of a large group. Teachers can also ask their students for feedback throughout the semester to better understand students’ needs and concerns. To minimize technical difficulties, teachers should perform test runs before live class sessions to ensure Zoom links, internet connection, and sound are working properly.

The flipped classroom model allows for more interactive classroom experiences between students and teachers and has been shown to improve student performance when compared to more traditional methods to teach. While we have limited data from studies, the flipped classroom method still works in a virtual classroom setting. Teachers planning to utilize the flipped classroom model in an online class may face challenges including technical difficulties along with reduced student engagement, attention, and attitude towards virtual learning. Teachers should keep this in mind as they develop material to teach virtually. As more research is published about online teaching methods, educators will have a better understanding of how to approach teaching in virtual classrooms.


  1. Camargo CP, Tempski PZ, Busnardo FF, Martins M de A, Gemperli R. Online learning and COVID-19: a meta-synthesis analysis. Clinics 2020;75: e2286.
  2. Hew KF, Lo CK. Flipped classroom improves student learning in health professions education: a meta-analysisBMC Med Educ. 2018;18(1):38.
  3. Jeong JS, González-Gómez D. A STEM Course Analysis During COVID-19: A Comparison Study in Performance and Affective Domain of PSTs Between F2F and F2S Flipped ClassroomFront Psychol. 2021;12:669855.

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