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How Multitasking Changes the Learning Process

Multitasking and Academic Learning

The days of a teacher’s desk drawer reserved for confiscated comic books and toys have long passed; yet educators are struggling more than ever with distracted students, on essay assignments. As cell phones have shifted out of the “vanity” camp and firmly into the “lifestyle tool” category, many educators are stuck for solutions that will regain students‘ attention. Some have thrown up their hands entirely by asking, “are cell phones really that bad?” The answer is a resounding yes, which means that the battle is slated to intensify, not disperse, as phones grow more complex. Therefore, learning and how we write are now common topics being debated, as it relates to getting distracted.

Yes, Students CAN Multitask, But…

According to a 2013 article by Annie Murphy Paul, a study of 263 students ranging from grade school through high school demonstrated a “shallower, spottier learning experience” when they were allowed to multitask with laptops and cell phones. Observers in the study noted that the addictive return to entertainment, social media and other non-educational pursuits happened with alarming frequency, with students unable to resist the lure of multitasking for more than 15 minutes on the high end. While they did listen to the lesson and apply themselves to coursework, this dedication dropped off sharply at the 2 minute mark, eventually ending with only 65 percent of the observation period devoted to educational pursuits.

It’s Happening In and Out of School

Multitasking isn’t only a problem in the classroom; students are also surfing the web, listening to music and watching television while they’re working on projects and homework at home. According to a 2012 Faculty Focus article by Maryellen Weimer, PH D, accessing programs such as instant messaging while reading book passages also increased the student’s required time to read by nearly 60% Extrapolated to studying, this means multitasking students will be hitting the books long enough to get frustrated, or skipping study time entirely to engage in noneducational tasks.

The safest route to ensuring that lessons are property absorbed and translate to good performance on tests is to institute a phones off/down policy. Voluntary participation may work for older students, but younger students may nee some added incentive. Sending a letter home to parents explaining classroom policy and offering a school number as an “emergency contact” number in lieu of their child’s cell phone will help eliminate common defenses for keeping cell phones on in the classroom.

You’ll still face an uphill battle, but remember: science has proven that multitasking leads to poorer understanding of lessons and tests, and so shutting down their cell phones is a move that’s genuinely for the students‘ own good.