Monday, August 25, 2014
Students often ask me how they can improve their performance in my classes. There’s one thing they can do that will increase their learning with no additional work on their part: stop multitasking.
Multitasking is bad. The research is clear: students, even today’s students who grew up multitasking, learn less when they’re doing other things at the same time. See, for example, here and here. It’s a very simple point: if you surf the Internet, email, text, instant message, talk on the phone, or watch TV while you’re studying (or in the classroom), you learn less. Effective study (and work) requires focus.
It's such an easy, effortless way to improve learning: just focus exclusively on what you’re reading, without any distractions. Turn off instant messaging. Close the web browser and the email program. Silence your phone. Turn off the TV.
I make that point to my students at the beginning of my classes. but, for some of them, it just doesn’t sink in. I guess that shouldn't surprise me: people text while they're driving even as the casualties continue to mount.
I recently found an exercise on the Internet that illustrates the point in a straightforward, simple way. I’m going to distribute it to my students this year (with the author’s permission) and see if it helps. (For what it’s worth, it took me 34 seconds to complete the exercise without multitasking and 52 seconds to do it multitasking.)