The Power of No: Multitasking

Recently I was watching a video produced by Frontline, called “Digital Nation” (click on the link to watch the show online) which focused on how our use of technology is changing our culture and how we do life. They did a section about the idea of “multi-tasking” which has become something that we all do yet our children/students 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”.

Can you learn while multi-tasking? Sure. It is not impossible to learn new things while multi-tasking but the problem is that the learning is not as effective and is compromised by the multi-tasking. Studies have shown that the learning done during multi-tasking actually resides differently in the brain and this makes it harder to recall later.

Not only is the learning not as effective it is not as efficient either. Many of us adults and especially our children believe that we are being much more efficient because we are multi-tasking. This misconception is simply wrong. We would complete our tasks faster and learn more if we would not multi-task and instead focus on one thing at a time and work on it until completion before moving on to the next item.

If it has a negative effect on learning, what can we do to help our children? Here is short list of ideas for parents:

  1. Ream more about the detrimental effects of multitasking to learning and talk/teach your children about it. They will not believe it and you will probably here something about being old and not as tech savvy. Your not saying multitasking is wrong – just helping them understand that it does not mix well with learning. Don’t give up it might eventually sink in.
  2. Create a good learning environment for your children in your home. A nice desk in a quiet area of the house which is away from distractions and noise. However, it should not be in an isolated area. The subtle accountability of others helps to keep them on task.
  3. Limit their access to multi-tasking technology (when they are learning). They will need to work on the computer/iPad for many different aspects of homework but they do not need to have Facebook, YouTube, etc., open as well. Restricting Facebook (during the study time), and other distracting websites, is one of the best steps a parent can take to help a student get the most out of his/her work.
  4. Take time to teach your children to be focused and how to stay on task before moving on to new things. The ability to stay focused and complete work is a great life skill that will benefit them throughout life.

Teaching our students/children how to focus and stay on task is a life skill that we need to be more intentional about in today’s multitasking world.

Karl Steinkamp
Blog #54
Day 88

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One thought on “The Power of No: Multitasking

  1. Nice reminder for teachers as well! Angela Watson teaches educators to focus on one task at a time in her 40HTW course and calls it batching. I’m still working on this skill but find it very effective. Your post has helped put this back in the forefront…thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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