Flipped Classroom vs. Traditional Classroom

screenshot-2016-10-20-16-36-26The flipped classroom downplays traditional lectures in favor of dynamic exercises in class and media-rich technology for class and home use. The emphasis is on practical application and discussion, rather than rote memorization.

While there’s a bit of a tug-and-pull between flipped advocates and traditional educators, the truth is that EMS educators have been using dynamic teaching methods since the beginning, though not always in a comprehensive or technology-based approach.

This was certainly apparent when Dan, a huge proponent of the flipped class, hosted an EMS educator webinar with Lyndal Curry. Lyndal is not only a licensed paramedic and an EMS instructor at Southern Union State Community College, she is a staunch defender of the traditional classroom. Their conversation revealed a surprising amount of overlap, which is detailed below.

Teaching Does Not Equal Learning

This is a big motivator behind flipped classroom techniques. With traditional techniques, it’s easier to fall into the habit of standing in a classroom and presenting material.

But students actually learn better when we don’t teach as much. Your most important role is to facilitate, not to teach. As you’ll see, the recommendations below mostly focus on bringing your students to a point where they’re more or less teaching themselves.

Importance of Group Work

If something enhances learning, do it! Students learn better from one another than they do from us. Group work allows every class member to investigate a topic, go through the process of forming their own opinions, and teach one another.

Group exercises are multipliers. They multiply learning and recall. They multiply your reach and ability to teach concepts rather than facts.

From a flipped classroom perspective, one of our favorite assignments is to assign groups and ask each one to create podcast or movie on a different skill station. Participants develop a much deeper understanding of skill stations when they’re required to think through a presentation like this.

Bonus: Group work improves communication! Students need to develop top-notch interpersonal skills and conflict resolution before getting in the field. Why not give them as much practice as they can get?

Encourage Critical Thinking at Every Opportunity

One thing most almost every type of EMS educator can agree on is that the ability to think critically in a variety of situations is the key to EMS students’ long-term success. It is much easier to promote critical thinking in a flipped classroom than a traditional one – that’s the nature of flipped class exercises.

Nonetheless, during our webinar, Lyndal Curry offered an excellent critical thinking method for a traditional classroom: During a basic Q&A session, use the Socratic Method to test the depth of students’ understanding. If students are instructed to write down the signs of shock, ask them to then explain why shock causes those signs. Continue that pattern until there are no more whys to be asked. This turns a would-be fact-spitting exercise into a valuable chance to deepen their understanding of a topic.

Use Humor

Finally, a simple but effective teaching method for all classrooms: Keep students alert by being entertaining. We call it “edutainment.”

A lot of instructors have an immediate reaction to this advice. “But I’m not funny!” You do have to be yourself, but you have to find a way to use what you’ve got to the benefit of your class. If you can’t be funny, be entertaining. If you can’t be entertaining, at least be engaging.

The Only Thing That Matters Is Learning

As long as your teaching methods promote practical application and critical thinking, there is room in this world for both methods. Remember, you can use flipped techniques in a traditional class without completely flipping your class.

For more ideas on how to promote a more effective classroom environment, check out the recording of this webinar: Engaging Students in the Traditional and Flipped Classroom.


We’re hosting a four-part webinar series for educators, with topics like technology in the classroom, evaluating competency and the new EMS safety paradigm. If you got something out of this blog post, we encourage you to sign up for any or all of these other webinars. Details and registration.