The multi-tasking myth: more harm than good?



Texting, chatting on Facebook, Tweeting, snap-chatting, and watching YouTube videos comprise a few of the many ways a student can multitask while studying. However research has shown that multitasking while studying negatively affects how well students retain information.

Staying connected to friends via text messaging or social media is a very normal part of life for a college student today, making it difficult to disconnect and focus on homework.

Many researchers have come to the conclusion that people who multitask generally take longer to complete two tasks done simultaneously, then two tasks that they are able to focus on individually.

Researchers who have specifically studied multitasking in relation to study have also seen the inefficiency of multitasking.

For example, professor Reynol Junco of Lock Haven University and sociology professor Shelia R. Cotten of the University of Alabama performed a study on the relationship between multitasking and academic performance. “Paying attention to Facebook or texting while studying limits essential processing because energies focused on attending to these technologies cannot be focused on making sense of study material,” they concluded.

Junco and Cotten found that texting and Facebooking while studying had a negative impact on students’ GPAs. Such activities divide attention and prevent students from focusing completely on their studies, therefore often affecting their grades.

Psychology professor Eileen Wood of Wilfrid Laurier University led another study to help understand the effects of multitasking on student learning. In her study, a control group listened to a lecture using only paper and pencil to take notes. The other six groups were provided with various forms of technology. The researchers stated, “The analyses indicated that participants who did not use any technologies in the lectures outperformed students who used some form of technology.”

Bringing a laptop to class to take notes is very common and in some cases is a useful resource. However, note taking is not the only thing laptops are used for during lectures. Facebook chats are one of the many things students do during class as they listen to the lecture.

While some students believe they can effectively listen to a lecture while doing other things on their laptop, Franciscan University junior Elise Zajicek disagrees, “It is very ineffective because a student can’t pay attention to their professor and check Facebook, and because it is more likely the student will get in a conversation with someone over Facebook and be distracted by that.”

Various study strategies can help students avoid distractions and the desire to multitask. To avoid distractions while using your laptop in your dorm room, unplug your Ethernet cord, suggests Zajicek.

Princeton University’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning provides students with several study tips on their website. They suggest that students set aside time to have fun with their technology, separate from their study time. They also suggest that students evaluate what technology is necessary while they study and then use that technology to their advantage.

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