Student multitasking: Myth or reality?


Jennie Ferris, Teaching and Learning Services, reflects on the article “Impact of Multitasking on Listening Effectiveness in the Learning Environment” originally published in The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Multitasking: can it be done? What are the implications for students’ learning? Students multi-task (in part thanks to technological advances) both in physical and virtual course environments. By and large, the research demonstrates that multi-tasking, or rapid switching between task, decreases one’s performance quality or increases the time a given task requires.

This recent article looks at the impact of multi-tasking upon students’ listening and writing performance during in-person and recorded lectures, and considers whether social presence (e.g. in-person versus recorded instructor) impacts task prioritization.

The results of the research clearly demonstrate that students’ completion of both the evaluated listening and writing tasks had a more satisfactory result in terms of student listening (accuracy of remembered information) and writing (quantity) for those who did not multi-task. However, the experimental design was such that multi-tasking students had 15 minutes to complete both tasks, rather than the 25 minutes for task completion accorded to the single-tasking students group. This begs the question of how much time would be needed (between 15 and 25 minutes) such that the quality and quantity measures would have been equivalent for the two groups?

What implications does multi-tasking have for teaching and learning? Are their ways to capitalize on this habit to complement the in-class learning experience with learning-related tasks (such as twitter or back-channeling during class, for example)?

2 thoughts on “Student multitasking: Myth or reality?”

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