5 Ways to Address Student Resistance in Flipped Classrooms and Active Learning Environments

Here are 5 ways to address student resistance in flipped and active learning classrooms. 

One of the best quotes I've read about student resistance in flipped and active learning classrooms was written by two of mentors from graduate school. They explain,

“Students forced to take major responsibility for their own learning go through some or all of the steps psychologists associated 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).
Flipped and 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.

The Challenge of Teaching and Learning in Flipped Classrooms and Active Learning Environments

Flipped classrooms are dynamic, interactive, and "messy." In these types of learning environments, you aren't going to see students listening to the teacher lecture for an entire class session as he or she presents information from the textbook.

Instead, students will be engaged in a task, solving problems, and working collaboratively. The room may be noisy since the students are discussing, solving, and testing ideas. The teacher’s voice is one of many.

Student-centered learning challenges us to change the way we think about teaching and learning. It shifts the focus of the learning process to the students. It can bring excitement, energy, and enthusiasm to the classroom - for you and your students.

It’s also hard.

It’s hard because being a learner in a flipped classroom requires a shift in the roles and responsibilities. Just as you are learning how to teach this way, your students are learning how to learn this way which is why it might lead to more resistance and uncertainty.

To create a successful 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 need to practice.

Julie Dirksen, the 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 into the old habit, and start cultivating new ones.”

5 Ways to Address Student Resistance in the Flipped Classroom

What can you do to support your students through this change in the classroom? What can you do to address student resistance?  Here are five ideas to consider:

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!” You may face even more disruption or an uprising, in this case, you can continue to use the ‘flipped’ methods and maintain that this is "just the way this course is taught."

3. Start Small

Look for a flippable moment. Then integrate a flipped or active learning strategy into that moment. "Flip" the work to them. This gives you the opportunity to practice your facilitation skills while your students practice their problem-solving and analysis skills.

Consider flipping one lesson and reflecting upon that process. By starting small, both you and your students have the chance to try the flipped model on a small scale before jumping in too deep and becoming overwhelmed.

4. Build Students' Confidence

Refer to the opening quote and think about how you can help students move through their fear or resistance. Build students’ confidence early and maintain the momentum.

Students may come to the class with preconceived ideas about what group work, collaboration, discussions, etc. look like. They may have had negative experiences with "flipped" classrooms even though yours may be structured differently. Show them how your classroom works, why it matters, and what success looks like.

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.

You may also want to try the "Start, Stop, Continue" strategy earlier in the semester so you and the students can make adjustments as needed. 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 so much happening in this space you share together!

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.

Your turn! What advice do you have for other instructors who want to know how to address students resistance in their classes?  Share your comments below and let's keep adding to this list.


Dirksen, J. (2012). Design for How People Learn. 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.

For more strategies to address student resistance and encourage students to come to class prepared, download your copy of the FREE whitepaper!



Note: An earlier version of this article was published as an invited guest post on Fractus Learning.


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