The Fizz Method of flipping the classroom has many benefits, such as the opportunity for reflective practice, building stronger relationships with students, parents, and administrators, and increased class time for student engagement and differentiation. But probably the most critical benefit is efficiency. Consider the following:

The teacher is standing at the front of the room, lecturing. Just as she is about to give an example to illustrate a point, someone from the main office knocks on the door – “Tanya’s mother is here to pick her up.” The student leaves the room. The remaining students are a bit distracted by this interruption and the teacher quiets the class down, refocusing them on the content. A few minutes pass and two students begin talking in the back row and a third has put his head down on the desk, which causes the teacher to stop the lecture in order to address their behavior. The teacher then refocuses on the content. Not long after that, a student asks a question…

Cognitive interruptions create inefficiencies in high school, college & university classrooms.

This is snapshot of a typical class period for many teachers; however, not many people notice the inefficiencies in this traditional teaching method or why these inefficiencies exist. Research from fields like cognitive psychology can help to explain.

Individuals have finite cognitive resources [1]. The working memory of a person, which is responsible for things like problem solving, decision making, and organizing information [2], can be overloaded when there are too many demands. In the above scenario, the teacher’s primary task is lecturing – the goal is to introduce and explain content to the students. The task of lecturing involves speaking, scanning the room for visual feedback from students (e.g., do they “get it?”), and perhaps writing or drawing diagrams on a board, among other things. Lecturing can require a sizable amount of processing capacity, which some might consider an inefficient use of cognitive resources.

The next thing that happens in the scenario is an interruption from the main office. An interruption can be defined as an event that is externally generated, randomly occurring and that breaks a person’s cognitive focus on a primary task [3]; typically this event requires immediate attention [4]. The interruption by the person from main office required the teacher’s immediate attention, thus disrupting focus on the primary task of lecturing. This is also an instance of inefficiency, in that the lecture time is now made longer due to starts and stops.

The two students who were caught talking in the back row, the student with his head down, and the student asking a question are all part of the environment of a typical classroom; but they are also considered interruptions. Some researchers argue that interruptions themselves can place greater demands on cognitive processing, increasing information load [5]. Interruptions force a person to ration cognitive resources [6] and they can result in a person forgetting some of the information needed for processing the primary task. As the intensity or number of interruptions increases, the resulting cognitive overload causes a deterioration of the person’s performance [6]. For a teacher, each interruption requires a switch from the primary task of lecturing to those other tasks (e.g., correcting behavior, answering a question), pushing the teacher toward cognitive overload and potentially reducing lecture quality. With every interruption, there is a chance that the teacher could leave out a critical piece of content, forget to use a particular example, etc. This is yet another occurrence of inefficiency. If the teacher’s lecture performance suffers due to various interruptions, some students won’t hear the necessary content, which will lead to the teacher having to re-lecture the content at another time.

Consider also that this scenario is a snapshot from a typical class period. Keep in mind that many teachers repeat the same lecture several times a day; the lectures are also repeated year after year. These inefficiencies can have a compounding effect over time, contributing to teacher stress and burnout.

Cognitive inefficiencies seen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Filming lecture videos using the Fizz Method can help a teacher avoid these particular inefficiencies. With a video lecture, the teacher can be certain that all content is included and that all necessary examples are provided. There are no interruptions to detract from the primary task of lecturing while filming a lecture video. By filming content, a 40 minute live lecture can translate to a 9 minute video lecture, which is considerably shorter because there are no interruptions causing starts and stops in lecture performance. Having students watch these short content videos at the beginning of class or even as homework means that lecturing is no longer the teacher’s primary task during class time. Now, the teacher has freed cognitive resources, reducing the risk of overload, which reduces stress and burnout. Things that were once interruptions, like managing behavior or addressing students’ questions, can become the primary task.

Review a 2014 summary of survey data illustrating the efficiency of video lectures across different grade levels and content areas.

Review additional research and results or learn more about our training programs.

– Dr. Brandy Parker & Dr. Lodge McCammon

[1] Jackson,T.W., & Farzaneh, P. (2012) Theory-based model of factors affecting information overload. International Journal of Information Management, 32, 523-532.
[2] Zull, J. E. (2002). The art of changing the brain: Enriching teaching by exploring the biology of learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub.
[3] Corragio, L. (1990). Deleterious effects of intermittent interruptions on the task performance of knowledge workers: A laboratory investigation (Unpublished doctoral dissertation: University of Arizona).
[4] Covey,S.R.(1989).The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. NewYork. Simon and Schuster.
[5] Speier et al., (1999) The Influence of Task Interruption on Individual Decision Making: An Information Overload Perspective Decision Sciences, Volume 30 Number 2.
[6] Normon, D. A., & Bobrow, D. G. (1975). On data-limited and resource-limited processes. Cognitive Psychology, 7,44-64.