Students: the Main Actors in the Learning Process (Flipped Learning Research Findings)

–Originally published at

Last year, I submitted a 16,500 word research project on Flipped Learning, the culmination of 3 years research and countless hours of reading, studying and interviewing the students involved in the research. Free now from the shackles of said research I feel that there are some insights worthy of sharing that could help us all learn.

The findings were largely unexpected and got me thinking about the potential of a few ideas, chiefly the merits of actually interviewing students as the main actors and experts in any learning process.

To give these ideas a little context it makes sense to share with you all the purpose of my research project. Those that know me will know I am an advocate of Flipped Learning (FL) so I designed a research question with the specific aim of finding out some new information in this field.

To what extent is Flipped Learning an effective pedagogical approach for improving student motivation and learning in the secondary school setting? 

To answer this I had to literally immerse myself in the research so lent heavily on qualitative data collection through participant interviews. To say I underestimated the workload involved in interviewing students is an understatement, it’s epic!

I designed a mixed methods approach, combining quantitative data from a pre and post-test design with qualitative data from the interviews which I conducted, transcribed then applied thematic analysis to. The results and resulting epistemology were interesting. For the purpose of the blog, it makes sense to split those insights into those I thought might occur and those I wasn’t expecting. The unanticipated insights are the ones that excited me and intrigue me the most. So here we go …

Expected Insights

  • Most students made progress when exposed to FL
  • Autonomy, relatedness, and competence emerged as key motivating factors with FL

Unexpected Insights

  • The SEN sample made no progress at all when exposed to FL
  • Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development could be a key theoretical framework to view SEN progress and motivation through in future research
  • Students learn best between 6pm and 9pm in the evening
  • Students self-regulate their learning time to 26 minutes, very similar to the 27 minute ALT (Academic Learning Time) model proposed by John Hattie (2014)

Some more info on those Expected insights

Students made progress 

The methodology was designed around a control group (Year 10: Flipped 101 GCSE with 20 students) and an intervention group (Year 11: Flipped Mastery GCSE with 28 students). So, 48 students in total were involved in the research. All 48 students were subjected to a pre-test prior to being exposed to Flipped Learning. Students’ were tested again after 8 weeks to assess progress made between the pre and post-test. This is a standard design in the FL domain and the results were consistent with other FL research adopting the same design (Mussallam 2010, Deslauriers & Wieman 2011, Pierce & Fox 2012, Ventry & Kilmer 2013 and More 2017). So, in this study students made progress over time, p = 0.05. In keeping with the positivist view, quantitative research relies upon scientific hypothesizes being formulated and then tested.   In this study, I thought the students would make progress over time when exposed to FL and they did.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is prevalent

SDT, a theory proposed by Deci and Ryan in 2002 explains how the basic psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness and competence are fundamental for intrinsic motivation. Interestingly, autonomy featured highly within the analytical narrative in this research. Pedagogical approaches that require students to self-regulate learning at home (such as flipped learning) are synonymous with SDT and specifically autonomy (Zainzuddin et al 2017).

And … The Unexpected insights

This is the cool bit! At the end of the testing window, I conducted 16 interviews asking students directly about their experiences and feelings relating to Flipped Learning. The resulting dialogues tend to jump out of the transcripts and form codes. Check out the process below …

Step 1: Interview all 16 student participants, make sure a balanced sample is represented.

Step 2: Transcribe all the interviews … this takes hours but a story begins to appear, weirdly the transcripts begin to talk to you and tell a story. Qualitative Researchers call this the analytical narrative.

Step 3: Applying Thematic Analysis, all 6 steps (Braun & Clarke 2008). So, you apply a set of codes to each transcript. After step 1 and 2, 59 codes emerged. These codes then are chunked to form themes.

Step 4: Latent and Semantic themes

Themes either emerge from the codes and analytic narrative or they fester under the surface on the data, hidden from view until the researcher notices them and their relevance. This is what all the hard work is for! On the surface … 3 themes emerged, illustrated in the diagram below.

Step 5: Write the report

Whilst triangulating all the data from the quant and qual methods, the following insights emerged.

  • FL improves student motivation and confidence to learn at home.
  • Students like accessing content ahead of time. FL facilitates this which students appreciate
  • Students feel they have autonomy with Fl to ‘explore learning at will’
  • Students like 24/7 access to lessons. They view FL as a lesson they can take at home when they like.
  • Students pause the videos during FL and they can rewind those videos. This allows them to self-regulate their learning. They cannot pause and rewind live lessons that happen in real time.
  • Students see their phones and mobile devices as crucial to learning. This strengthens the Digital Nativesargument put forward by Prensky (2000) that the students we teach are the Always ON generation, born post-2000 they have grown up reliant on technology, so are Techno Philes. 
  • Students see the internet as a teacher but ultimately value the input of the teacher even more.

The role of the teacher is changing. We are no longer just dispensers of knowledge. Students can find out knowledge for themselves. Knowledge is instant. Technology and the internet is the reason for this. Students now rely on teachers to check that knowledge, validate the authenticity and take the knowledge to the next level! At this stage, I am not entirely sure what the next level entails. Potential exists to explore SOLO taxonomy about which Joe B blogged about last month. Flipped Learning, specifically how students self-regulate learning outside of the classroom could be exciting areas of exploration too!

So if the students have told me all of this, what does it really mean?

Well, the beauty of qualitative research is that it is by nature subjective. I acknowledge my interpretations might differ from another and that’s ok. As a qualitative researcher immersed in the research I had to remain reflexive and trust that the themes would reveal a greater story, the BIG picture!

The BIG Picture

I feel it’s important to clarify at this point I have never been comfortable with the term ‘SEN’. Fellow hipster Nige invented the term ‘children who need help to learn’ as a favorable alternative to the SEN term used in UK schools. I prefer Nige’s perspective and feel that it fits well into my ethos and thinking around the ZPD and how teachers can support students in developing new knowledge. Sadly, the special populations prescribed within the UK schools rhetoric forced me to focus on special populations that alraedy existed – hence the reluctant inclusion of the term SEN.

SEN students made less progress when exposed to FL. The quantitative post-test data showed SEN students made zero and in some cases negative progress when exposed to FL. All other populations (Pupil Premium, Gifted and Talented, English as Additional Language and Other) made significant progress. This finding correlated directly with the SEN insights from the interviews. I don’t know why SEN students didn’t make progress but the interviews suggest the answer could lie in confidence and motivation to work away from the teacher. So, with this in mind, the author proposes Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone of Proximal Development as a possible lens to view this through.

The ZPD proposition suggests that once the student, with the benefit of scaffolding,  masters the task; the scaffolding can then be removed so the student can complete the task on their own. The overlapping section of the Venn-diagram illustrates the ZPD visually.

I propose that SEN students require more time in the ZPD, working closely with the teacher in the scaffolding process and perhaps this is why they did not perform well when exposed to FL. More research on the influence of the teacher/student in the ZPD needs to be conducted. The model below could be a good starting point to facilitate future ZPD related research when considering new pedagogical approaches. especially in the qualitative domain.

This is a significant insight and a new direction for FL related research going forward! Perhaps Vygotsky saw the ZPD as a paradigm for explaining the connected but not yet known things that a student is ready to learn. The overlapping curves of the Venn-diagram could signify the degree or extent of scaffolding that needs to occur. Children who require more support with their learning, specifically in the scaffolding and validation of knowledge stages could conceivably spend more time in the zone … I am intrigued both by the possibilities and implications of this. The next Educational Hipster blog features some thoughts from Nige on children who need help to learn. Keep your eyes peeled …

27 Minutes ALT 

All 48 students in this study completed the FL tasks between 6pm and 9pm in the evenings. As their teacher this is useful to know, they like to learn at this time.

What is more interesting is that the mean average time spent on task = 26 minutes. It might be coincidental but that time period is very close to Hattie’s (2014) research on ALT: Academic Learning Time which concluded 27 minutes as the optimum time students can learn without distractions. The range for the Hattie study was between 9 and 45 minutes ALT, averaged at 27 minutes. This was a credible study and might offer educators globally a fresh insight into how students learn. In my study, students self-regulated their own learning time and on average spent 26 minutes on the task.

In schools, lessons are mostly 60 minutes so I propose we change this. Why not restructure the school day into a series of 30-minute learning episodes?

Whilst I appreciate the logistical limitations of this, the concept of ALT is surely worthy of future exploration. As a compromise, how about breaking down a 60-minute lesson into 2 x 27-minute learning episodes split with a short break in the middle. Or, better still 2 x 27-minute versions of Flipped Learning … this really does work!

All in all, this was a therapeutic process. It taught me to listen to the students, they are the most important people after all. From their insights, we can learn and grow and reshape the educational landscape whilst we go …


  • Article related to flipped learning was good. As said flipped learning system motivates the students to learn well and also the suggested average academic learning time can be implemented in the school or colleges and also when the students prepare or study on their own. Teachers can motivate and guide the students.

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