Annie Murphy Paul considers research that shows how media multitasking while doing academic work leads to “spottier, shallower, less flexible learning.” Students “understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts.” Her post spawned a reality-check discussion on what one commenter calls “the Age of Distraction” or “the Era of Being Present without Really Being Here.”
In this age of distraction her thoughts have implications far beyond the classroom.
(BTW, her Twitter stream is one of the best on how we learn. There is a good reason she has more than 30,000 followers.)
From her post (emphasis mine):
Although the students had been told at the outset that they should “study something important, including homework, an upcoming examination or project, or reading a book for a course,” it wasn’t long before their attention drifted: Students’ “on-task behavior” started declining around the two-minute mark as they began responding to arriving texts or checking their Facebook feeds. By the time the 15 minutes were up, they had spent only about 65 percent of the observation period actually doing their schoolwork.
“We were amazed at how frequently they multitasked, even though they knew someone was watching,” [psychology professor Larry] Rosen says. “It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices. . . . It was kind of scary, actually.”
The media multitasking habit starts early. In “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds,” a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and published in 2010, almost a third of those surveyed said that when they were doing homework, “most of the time” they were also watching TV, texting, listening to music, or using some other medium.”
For older students, the media multitasking habit extends into the classroom. While most middle and high school students don’t have the opportunity to text, email, and surf the Internet during class, studies show the practice is nearly universal among students in college and professional school. One large survey found that 80 percent of college students admit to texting during class; 15 percent say they send 11 or more texts in a single class period.”
Texting, emailing, and posting on Facebook and other social media sites are by far the most common digital activities students undertake while learning, according to Rosen. That’s a problem, because these operations are actually quite mentally complex, and they draw on the same mental resources—using language, parsing meaning—demanded by schoolwork.
This ability to resist the lure of technology can be consciously cultivated, Rosen maintains. He advises students to take “tech breaks” to satisfy their cravings for electronic communication: After they’ve labored on their schoolwork uninterrupted for 15 minutes, they can allow themselves two minutes to text, check websites, and post to their hearts’ content. Then the devices get turned off for another 15 minutes of academics.
So here’s the takeaway for parents of Generation M: Stop fretting about how much they’re on Facebook. Don’t harass them about how much they play video games. The digital native boosters are right that this is the social and emotional world in which young people live. Just make sure when they’re doing schoolwork, the cellphones are silent, the video screens are dark, and that every last window is closed but one.
Read the whole post here.
(Image by Adam Fagen)