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Why does Multitasking While Learning Harm Students More than It Helps?

Why does Multitasking While Learning Harm Students More than It Helps?

Can we combine multitasking and learning together? Multitasking is often assumed to increase our productivity, but it probably depends on the activities.  Of most importance to students is the impact of multitasking on the intellectual processes used while learning. Annie Murphy Paul says, “I don’t care if a kid wants to tweet while she is watching American Idol, or have music while he plays a video game. But when students are doing serious work with their minds, they have to focus”. Students should focus when it matters most.  Is multitasking actually harmful to learning rather than it helps? Of course it is. Multitasking harms students’ learning by slowing down them, damaging their memory and stressing them out.

 First, rather than helping students, multitasking can actually harm students’ speed when they are trying to complete their assignments. In the article “You’ll Never Learn!” by Annie Murphy Paul declares “young people think they can perform two challenging tasks at once, Meyer acknowledges, but “they are deluded”.Contrary to popular belief, multitasking does not save time. But mostly students think that they can perform two challenging tasks at once perfectly. Also, they think that they can get more done faster within a short period of time. Unfortunately, it will probably take students longer to finish tasks when they are jumping back and forth than it would to finish each one separately. When students are distracted by texting, emailing, and posting on Facebook and other social media sites, their brains won’t be able to process and store information in a useful way. As a result of that, students have to spend more time reading the same chapter again and again to understand the concepts. Even if students think using a laptop is a faster way to take down their notes, according to Fred Barbash, “laptop users are inclined to use long verbatim quotes, which they type somewhat mindlessly. It may negatively affect their understanding when they are retrieving the concepts. In facts, they don’t remember the main details. Because of that they may have trouble with recalling facts. Mostly using laptops in the class negatively associates with students’ learning. For example, last week I had to study for my physics mid-term test. But I couldn’t concentrate on the chapters that I had to study for, because I was distracted by checking my Facebook page and replying to the instant messages. Finally, I had to stay awake the whole night to go through only two chapters. It took me longer to read and understand concepts. It is obvious that focusing on one task from start to finish is far better than switching tasks.

Second, multitasking damages students’ memory. It makes sense that if a student tries to do two challenging tasks at once, for example, texting a friend while they are doing homework, they are going to miss important details of one or both. Switch tasking leads to mental fatigue. According to Paul, when students are attending to two different tasks, their memories often fail to remember what they are trying to learn. Furthermore, the brain engages in a different form of memory when students focus on two demanding tasks, which are using the same area of the brain at the same time. As a result of that, it won’t be able to process and store information in the same useful way as if the student were concentrating on one task.  They may miss most important details while they are trying to divide their attention by switching their tasks at the same time. But even interrupting one task to suddenly focus on another can be enough to disrupt short term memory. The scientists in a 2006 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences wrote, “even if distraction does not decrease the overall level of learning, it can result in the acquisition of knowledge that can be applied   less flexibly in new situations”. When students are forced to pay attention simultaneously, they are unable to understand the concepts in order to apply them in new situations. For example, last week my friend, Ana didn’t pay attention at my physics class. She was checking her phone constantly during the class period. She just wrote down the equations, but didn’t try to understand the concepts. As a result of that, she couldn’t do well at the exam; even though, she knew the equations by heart. Indeed, multitasking hurts students’ learning capacity and memory.

Third, multitasking experiences much more stress. Dave Crenshaw’s video of the myth of multitasking test (new) emphasizes that multitasking is a thief. When most people say they are “multitasking,” they are most often referring to switch tasking. Each switch in attention incurs loss of time, decrease in performance, and an increase in stress levels. When I did his self-exercise at the class it took me up to twice as the first time. I felt more stress and my heart beat sped up. My hand writing was miserable and it was really hard me to focus on two different tasks at once, which took me longer and decreased the quality of my work. Indeed, multitasking causes for higher depressed. Not only physically but also it is a consequence. If students do poorly on an exam because they studied while texting, that can certainly trigger a lot of stress, even self-esteem issues and depression. Reynol Junco, a faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Center, found that “texting and using Facebook-in class and while doing–homework were negatively correlated with college students’ GPAs. Engaging in Facebook use or texting while trying to complete schoolwork may tax students’ capacity for cognitive processing and preclude deeper learning,”.  For example, when I was doing my homework I tried to check my phone constantly. Many times I ended with losing my focus on the material and forgetting the most important details. If I change my behavior and concentrate on one task at a time, it may apparent that I will be able to perform well at my finals with less stress. According to The Autumn of the Multitaskers, “certain studies find that multitasking boots the level of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems… In short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze…”. It implies that while students are alternately impairing their attention in two different tasks, they may face cascade of negative short term and long term outcomes.

In conclusion, the question isn’t, “Should we multi-task?” Probably, multitasking won’t ever go away. It is more a matter of when we should power down and focus. Students should be more aware of how multitasking is affecting their learning. Even though, many of students think that multitasking is the best way to get through the demands of their day; the reality is it takes them longer to complete their tasks, negatively impacts their memory and stresses them out. Controlling student’s tendency to multitask could have benefits. They probably find that they get more done, feel less stress and have more energy at the end of the day; although, multitasking seems unavoidable part of life.

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Har JAy

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