Spokane Journal of Business

‘Flipped classrooms’ boost learning

Model provides students hands-on business skills

  • Print Article

Learning exclusively from textbooks and lectures of a traditional classroom setting is no longer enough to properly prepare students with the skills required by modern workplaces. A study by the Association of American Colleges & Universities found that soon-to-be college graduates believed they were prepared for their first job, while the majority of employers disagreed.

A basic business education covering fundamentals of business concepts is no longer sufficient, and it’s the responsibility of educators to provide their students with skills across a range of areas. In today’s world, students also need soft skills such as critical thinking, problem solving abilities, and good time management to help them keep pace with industry change. 

The inclusion of hands-on, interactive learning in curricula is essential for both the professional growth of students and their sense of educational accomplishment, as seen in the success many professors have witnessed after implementing a “flipped-classroom” model.

That model reverses the traditional classroom format by delivering instructional content outside of the classroom and leaving class time for interactive activities. It’s the foundation for my Internet Marketing course at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business. 

This class is entirely team-based, enabling students to learn from each other and work collaboratively with real life businesses. Students are first tasked with creating a Web presence for their own consulting teams, a skillset they will need when helping real clients in Eastern Washington solve unique challenges.

While some participating clients may already have strong social media presences but desire brand-consistent content that will promote Web traffic, others may have outdated websites that need to be rebuilt completely. Over the course of the term, students work with these various businesses to provide solutions that address their specific needs. 

Case studies further supplement hands-on learning, closing the gap between Internet marketing theory and practice. A case study generally focuses on a particular challenge that a real company is facing or has faced in the past and provides the background for students to make their own decisions about how to address the problem.

Students familiarize themselves with the details of the case prior to class so that scheduled time is spent discussing the case and engaging in groups to generate a solution. These cases are chosen so that students can compare their decisions to those of the company and apply classroom knowledge to help solve the company’s issue.

For example, I have written a case that examines the complexities of creating and releasing a phone application. Instead of providing the opportunity for a cut-and-dried solution, each of the choices that need to be made in the case affect subsequent decisions, leading to a complex set of trade-offs that the students have to process and act upon. Interestingly, the students figure out that, while the business idea is unique, useful, and appealing to the target market, actually getting the envisioned product to market is financially unfeasible. 

Although there are numerous learning benefits presented by this teaching approach, many professors are hesitant to adopt this nontraditional model for a variety of reasons. These may include the additional work required on the professor’s part but also the amount of trust that is required of students to complete the assigned work prior to coming to class. 

While it might seem like homework, work the students perform outside of the class isn’t for reinforcing concepts learned in class, but rather is for learning the basic concepts that will be used in addressing the more complex issues discussed in the classroom.  

The flip model requires professors to create a new program each term and adapt course content to reflect relevant trends, particularly in areas that evolve continuously. Because clients change consistently, professors must find businesses that are willing to participate.

Additionally, students’ involvement is much more extensive. Students must not only be able to travel to their clients and meet for long stretches of time, but also must be willing to work with their team throughout the entire course. Unlike a traditional classroom, the quality of student projects can impact real businesses, and although this fact can intimidate students, it also motivates them to put forth their best works. 

Experience in marketing, creative thinking, flexibility, client relationships, and the variability of real-life businesses equips students for the workplace more so than a traditional classroom. Students gain insight into the types of challenges they will face during their careers.

For example, Google changed its ranking of Web pages halfway through the Internet Marketing class last year. Learning how to optimize content for Google is a major aspect of the course, and students were forced to make changes before the Google deadline that would have jeopardized their clients’ rankings. 

Professors who use the flip model believe it improves students’ engagement and comprehension. If more priority is placed on creating these specific learning experiences in classrooms, business graduates may become more successful as new employees. 


Andrew Perkins is a researcher and professor at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business.

  • Guest Commentary

  • Follow RSS feed for Guest Commentary

Read More

Sign up for our E-mail updates

including the
Morning Edition

Join our list