Abeysekera, L., & Dawson, P. (2015). Motivation and cognitive load in the flipped classroom: definition, rationale and a call for research. Higher Education Research & Development34(1), 1-14.


The term flipped classroom has been around since 2011 but very little research has been conducted into the flipped classroom approach. From a cognitive load standpoint, pre-class lectures allow learners to learn at their own pace, which may enhance learning. Since the success of in-class activity relies heavily on learners completing the pre-class work, student motivation to complete all work must also be examined. This article creates a definition of the flipped classroom based on scholarly and popular literature. This approach is then analyzed against existing theories of motivation and cognitive load. The article proposes six propositions about the flipped classroom which lend to further research related to those propositions. The next section highlights key points from the article.

Key Points

  • Flipping involves the inversion of the traditional lecture/homework format. The focus is on moving tasks in space and time.
  • The dissemination of information is provided via a pre-class video and class time emphasizes active learning.
  • Proposed lowest common denominator definition of a flipped class
    •  “moves most information-transmission teaching out of the class;
    • uses class time for learning activities that are active and social; and
    • required students to complete pre- and/or post-class activities to fully benefit from in class work” (P. 6).
  • Completing pre-class work is scaffolded into in-class; one builds on the other.
  • Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors influence student engagement and therefor effect learning.
  • The flipped learning environment can either promote or impede satisfaction of a learner’s basic cognitive needs.
  • Our working memory can effectively handle certain cognitive loads. Overloading our working memory impedes learning.
  • Cognitive Load Theory is built on the foundation that different types of “loads” exist. These loads can be intrinsic, extraneous, and germane.
  • Student self-pacing in pre-class work helps learners to better manage their personal cognitive loads.
  • The same strategies the help the novice learner to manage their cognitive load may not be beneficial to expert learners.
  • Learning analytics, such as analytics conducted on pre-class assignments can help inform in-class activities.

Figure 1. Theoretical model for the flipped classroom. Reprinted from Motivation and cognitive load in the flipped classroom: definition, rationale and a call for research, by Abeysekera, L., & Dawson, P. (2015). P. 19.

Figure 1 demonstrates the how a flipped classroom can be set up to address intrinsic motivation of learners, extrinsic motivation of learners, and better manage the cognitive load. Instructors can address these influential learning factors by appealing to the learners’ need for a sense of competence, a sense of relatedness, and a sense of autonomy. Instructors can help learners better manage cognitive load through use of self-pacing mechanisms and tailoring instruction to the learner’s expertise level. The next section on design principles and explanations provides specific suggestions for instructional design.

Design Principles and Explanations

  • Intrinsic motivation is more likely to flourish in social contexts that also foster a sense of security and relatedness. This could include things like small group work.
  • Provide less controlling learning environments.
  • Move lectures out of the classroom.
  • Encourage students to actively participate.
  • Learning activities should be novel, challenging, or provide an aesthetic value for students.
  • Facilitate student’s self-regulation of behavior through grades, course prizes, failure other means.
  • Create learning environments that encourage students to integrate values associated with a given course as their own.
  • Create opportunities for active participation and collaboration.
  • Create opportunities for autonomy.
  • The use of pre-class videos allows for student self-pacing.
  • Incorporate the use of learning analytics.
  • Provide multiple versions of difficult material, tailored to the diverse knowledge continuum of students.

Guiding Questions

  1. The article investigates intrinsic and extrinsic factors of motivation for participation in a flipped classroom environment. If you had access to unlimited resources, how would you attempt to increase motivation in your flipped classroom?
  2. Do you think providing positive and/or negative consequences to increase student motivation is a good or bad thing? Explain your answer.
  3. As an instructor, how would you feel about your class if the aforementioned design principles were incorporated into your flipped classroom?
  4. Have you ever used learner analytics to inform your instruction? If so, please explain.
  5. Can you apply any of the design principles to your own learning situation as a student? If so, explain what it/they was/were and how it impacted you as a learner.

Additional Resources

Gilboy, M. B., Heinerichs, S., & Pazzaglia, G. (2015). Enhancing student engagement using the flipped classroom. Journal of nutrition education and behavior47(1), 109-114.

Lai, C. L., & Hwang, G. J. (2016). A self-regulated flipped classroom approach to improving students’ learning performance in a mathematics courseComputers & Education100, 126-140.


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Learning Environments Design Reading Series Copyright © by evrimb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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