5 Ways to Address Student Resistance in the Flipped Classroom

Dr. Barbi Honeycutt is the Founder of Flip It Consulting in Raleigh, NC. She facilitates workshops and builds professional development programs to teach educators, trainers and instructors how to create effective participant-centered learning environments.

“Students forced to take major responsibility for their own learning go through some or all of the steps psychologists associate with trauma and grief:  Shock, Denial, Strong emotion, Resistance and withdrawal, Struggle and exploration, Return of confidence, and Integration and success” (Felder & Brent, 1996, p. 43.)

Active learning environments cause disruption. They cause disruption because they go against the status quo.  They break away from the ‘norms’ you typically see in a classroom. In these environments, you’re not going to see a classroom where students are listening to the teacher’s voice as he or she presents information from the textbook. Instead, you’ll see students engaged in a task and solving a problem. They are often working groups. The room is noisy since the students are discussing, solving, and testing ideas.  The teacher’s voice is one of many.

The flipped classroom is one type of active learning environment.  It’s dynamic, it’s engaging, and it’s “messy” since students are actively engaging in higher level thinking skills during class time.  It requires us to change the way we think about teaching and learning.

It’s also hard.

It’s hard because flipped classrooms require a new set of skills for both the instructor and the students.  Just as we (the instructors) are learning how to create these flipped learning experiences for our students, our students are also learning how to thrive in these new learning environments. And this is why we might see more student resistance in active learning environments. Just as Felder and Brent explain in the opening quote, it’s almost like our students are moving through the stages from shock and withdrawal to confidence and success.


Our students are moving through the stages from shock and withdrawal to confidence and success.


To create a successfully flipped classroom environment, we have to change the way we design our lessons and lectures and we have to help our students overcome their resistance to this new model.  As we all know, change is not easy. To change, we have to recognize that it takes more than one flipped experience to be successful.  For example, if we want to change our body by losing weight, then we have to work out every single day.  Or, if we want to learn to play the piano, we have to practice moving our fingers along the keys every single day.  It takes practice.

Similarly, if we want to change our students’ mindset about any active learning strategy, and if we want to build their capacity to succeed in the flipped environment, then they have to practice every single day they step into your class.  Julie Dirksen, author of Design for How People Learn, explains, “Change is a process, not an event.  You absolutely cannot expect someone to change based on a single explanation of the new practice.  They need time and repetition to ease back on the old habit, and start cultivating new ones.”

All that being said, here are five strategies to address student resistance in the flipped classroom:


Address Student Resistance in the Flipped Classroom

1.  Introduce active learning on the first day of class

Try flipping your syllabus by embedding big questions and prompting discussion about the course, not just the policies and procedures. Be clear about the expectations, the goals, and the purpose of your approach, and be sure to follow through.


2. Show the evidence

Show your students what the research says and/or what other students have said about your course. You might think of a creative way to build this into an assignment or research project. Although, depending on our students, it might not be a good idea to announce that “This is a flipped classroom!” In this case, it’s just the way your class is taught.


3. Start small

Try a flippable moment.  Starting small gives you a chance to practice your facilitation skills while your student practice their problem-solving skills.  It gives both of you a chance to learn before jumping in and becoming overwhelmed.


4.  Keep the learning outcomes achievable in the beginning of the course

Refer back to the opening quote for this blog post and think about how you can help student move through their fear or resistance.  Build students’ confidence early and keep up the momentum. They may come into the class with preconceived ideas about what group work, collaboration, discussions, etc. look like. They may have had negative experiences with these types of structures.  Help them create healthy collaborative learning experiences.  By keeping the learning outcomes achievable early on, they can build trust with their peers and move towards higher levels of critical thinking and creativity.


5.  Assess often

Try to build in both low and high stakes assessment strategies to give your students more opportunities to practice and stay on track.  Be supportive, especially during those times when you sense more resistance, so you can help students navigate successfully through the course.


Remember, your students are learning how to learn in this new environment and they are also learning the content. You, as the instructor, are learning how to teach in this new environment and learning how to re-think how to deliver the content in ways that are active and engaging. There’s a lot happening in this space!  So, when you see students pushing back or challenging the process, think about these stages of grief and see if there are places where you can ease the transition and ensure the change results in a positive experience for you and for your students.



  • Dirksen, J. (2012). Design for How People Learn. J. Dirksen. USA.
  • Felder, R. & Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction. College Teaching, 44(2), p. 43-47, Taylor and Francis Group.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr, John Biehler.