Are you watching TV, answering email, text messaging and reading this blog all at the same time? Stop! Now! Choose one thing and do it well and with focus, then move on to the next task, and so on. Multi-tasking is bad for you. Okay, so you won't take my word for it? Here's more than a decade's worth of research on the subject from such stalwart institutions as Stanford University, the University of Michigan and UCLA. And the research all points to this fact: juggling multiple tasks, ubiquitous in our tech-laden world, hurts learning and performance as it divides attention.
The Stanford researchers set out to tackle the assumption that it is impossible for the brain to process more than one string of information at a time. They theorized that maybe people who appear to multitask must have superior control over how they focus and what they focus on. So they went hunting for the secret. But after studying 100 students, they discovered that the multitaskers don't have a special "gift," and they are, in fact, losing mental acuity.
The researchers divided their test subject into two groups: those who do media multitasking on a regular basis and those who do not. They conducted three different tests which involved ignoring irrelevant information, organizing memories and switching tasks. The heavy multitaskers underperformed on all three tasks: they were, as one researcher put it, "suckers for irrelevancy;" they were unable to filter out information unnecessary to the task at hand; and their capacity to store information to help complete a task was diminished.
The UCLA researchers examined how multitasking affects our ability to learn. In short, it does! Adversely! It may just be common sense, but it would certainly seem that the best way to learn and improve your memory is to pay attention to the things you want to remember! Like stuff you want to learn! Duh! So the next time I hear a fellow educator talk about the wonderful ability of today's students to multitask, I think I am going to scream! And then I will refer him or her to these research studies. Wow, what a concept: maybe we could achieve more by doing less.
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