The Myth of Multi-tasking



Recently I was watching a video produced by Frontline, a news show in the U.S., called “Digital Nation” (click on the link to watch the show online) which focused on how our use of technology is changing our cultures and how we do things. They did a section about the idea of “multi-tasking” which has become something that we all do yet our children do it at a much higher level.

What caught my attention was a simple comment that multi-tasking is a myth and that it is actually detrimental to learning. I decided I needed to learn more about this and a simple Google search (while I was listening to music, downloading some documents, and writing an email) turned up a myriad of articles and even one book called “The Myth of Multitasking”. After some initial reading I decided that this is very appropriate for our theme this year – “DISconnect”.

So this week I want to simply post a number of quotes from the articles I read that grabbed my attention. I think they will grab your attention as well (if you’re not attempting to multi-task while reading the Dalat News).

  • “In 2005, the BBC reported on a research study that found, ‘Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.’” 1
  • “In one recent study, Russell Poldrack, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that “multitasking adversely affects how you learn.” 1
  • “Researchers show that even when you do learn things through multi-tasking, you compromise the quality of that learning. Foerde et al. (2006) showed that while people can and do learn things while multitasking, the learning is less flexible and more specialized. What that means is that when you go to recall something you learned while multitasking, chances are you won’t do so quite as easily or readily.” 2
  • “According to a recent study at Stanford University, media multi-taskers have more limited attention spans and cannot switch jobs as easily as those who prefer to work on one task at a time.” 3
  • “Your brain cannot process two relatively different thoughts simultaneously. It makes heavy use of context switching between different thought processes. These context switches are not free. They cost time and perhaps more. Thus, when you are doing complex tasks, you are actually taking more time to finish them by constantly switching between them than if you had done them sequentially.” 4
  • “From what I have read, my conclusion is that multitasking, in general, should be avoided, especially by students. The goal of a student is not just to get things done but to learn new concepts and develop the thinking process.” 4
  • A study in the July 16th issue of Neuron suggests that though we can train our brains to work faster as we juggle, we never actually manage to do more than one thing at a time.” 5

Next week we will look at what this research is telling us and how it might affect how we work and how we help our children learn.






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Dalat Director

Karl Steinkamp is passionate about Dalat International School and training up young people to make a positive impact on their world, walk with integrity, and follow Christ. Karl was a student at Dalat and returned with a degree in education as a student teacher, high school principal, and now Dalat Director since 2006.

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