"From what I have read, my conclusion is that multitasking, in general, should be avoided, especially by students."

As part of the class I teach on media we watch a video produced by Frontline, a news show in the U.S., called “Digital Nation” which focuses on how our use of technology is changing our cultures and how we live. 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 statement that multi-tasking is a myth and that it is actually detrimental to learning.

That is a pretty strong comment so 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 – “Focus 2020”. So this week I want to simply post a number of quotes from the articles that grabbed my attention. I think they will grab your attention as well:

“In one study, Russell Poldrack, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that multitasking adversely affects how you learn.”

“Research shows that even when you do learn things through multi-tasking, you compromise the quality of that learning. Foerde showed that while people can and do learn things while multitasking, the learning is less flexible and more specialized.

“According to a study done by 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.”

“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.”

“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.”

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.

Written by Karl Steinkamp

Karl Steinkamp is passionate about Dalat International School and training up young people. Karl was a student at Dalat and returned with a degree in education as a student teacher, high school principal, and now Head of School since 2006.
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