The Multi-Tasking Myth

So, I wonder right now, how many of our students have told their parents they’re doing their homework whilst they’re also engaging in some rapid fire texting, watching the TV and checking out the latest wall comments on Facebook.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but here is some pretty compelling evidence that a lot of people have been kidding themselves about this whole ‘multi-tasking’ myth. Sadly, the unfashionable but logical conclusion here is that the old-fashioned ideas about doing homework in peaceful, focused circumstances without distractions. If you’re going to do something effectively, there’s still no substitute for concentrated effort.

BBC Article on Multi-Tasking

This reminded me of some earlier research that i had read about related to learning. This suggested that learning is situational specific – in other words – for the best recall of material learned the situations of learning and recall should be similar. The research consisted of teaching certain things to divers whilst they were under water. Then, they were tested on said material both under water and in a classroom setting. recall under water was better.

One conclusion that can be drawn from this is that until schools start to offer facilities for examinations to be taken prone on a bed or the floor in front of a television set to MTV, that’s probably not the most effective place to learn school related material.

Boring and very sad, I know, but you can’t fight the workings of the human mind!!


3 Responses

  1. I am delighted to read that piece, especially at a time when I am going through trying times with my 10 year old..who seems to have accquired quite an apptitude for forgetting his homework at school….or at home ..depending on whether I ask or his teacher asks. It has come to a point where I am the one trying hard to avoid his teachers [hope his teachers are not reading this!!!!]. When he sits down to work his left hand is busy moving his “queen’ around on his chess board to checkmate his younger brother’s lonely looking king !!…or his legs!!!….busy tackling a soccer ball under the table!!… My younger one could not have asked for a better partner in ‘ multi-tasking’ while doing his homework!! Thank you!! I am going to read this out aloud to them!!! Now on ….[ I hope…!!] their ‘your are so mean, mom…’ looks and crying sessions’ should no longer torture me!!!!!……..

    • Oh, Annie

      I can’t help feeling that I’ve probably become one of the most unpopular people in your household for sharing this information. In my defence I would remind that the article suggests the biggest risks are when engaging in similar types of tasks.

      Thus, kicking the football under the table whilst solving algebra puzzles might not be all bad!!

    • LOL Annie … you have a highly “kinesthetic” learner.

      He possibly is better able to keep himself from drifting off and getting bored while doing his algebra if he keeps his “muscle motor” whirring. In fact if doing school work required him to “physically” do stuff to solve math problems he would not need the football at his feet.

      We are all familiar with this image: high achievers who simply cannot be still .. fidgeting, pacing about, shuffling a ball in both hands or squeezing it, doodling compulsively even as they are paying minute attention to the task at hand, usually involving talking or listening.

      Maybe in extreme cases many such children while absolutely bright and motivated while learning, fail in “written exams” that involve LONG hours of sitting still. Their mind just freezes. And a series of such “exam” failures often lead to labelling the child as one.

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