"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Multitasking Is Possible, But Difficult with Learning

To all the mothers out there, A Happy Mother's Day. Lydia, a mother of two, has been blogging about baby products, and at the same time, has been sharing the struggles and triumphs of raising children. Last year, she wrote "10 Things Before 10", where she talked about what a mom must accomplish before 10 in the morning:
The list of 10 things should include the obvious like getting kids dressed, shower, feed breakfast and make beds. But add on emptying and reloading the dishwasher, fold a load of laundry, call the doctor to make that appointment, wipe-down counters, you get the idea. The list should rotate – one day you clean the bathrooms, the next you clean windows. And before you know it this will all become habitual!
Above figure captured from http://www.snugglebugz.ca/blog/10-things-before-10/
Some mothers can indeed multitask. There are, however, limits to what a person could multitask. Some tasks simply require focus or full attention. No one, for example, should multitask while driving a car. It is simply reckless or irresponsible. We want drivers on the road to be paying full attention while driving.

Since this blog is an education blog, I should add "learning" to the list of tasks that require one hundred percent attention. Learning is not folding laundry. Learning is different from wiping counters. Learning involves listening to a lecture or reading a book. Learning sometimes requires making observations and drawing patterns. These are tasks that may not be demanding physically but are surely intellectually taxing. Although we have two hands and two feet (for those who are agile enough to use their feet to pick up things), we only have one brain. Learning needs this one brain. When the brain is involved in multiple tasks, what a person maybe doing is simply switching between tasks. Multitasking along this line is therefore a misnomer. Switching between tasks comes with a price of inefficiency and lack of focus.

With regard to learning, multitasking may still be possible, but the tasks that may be combined with studying are limited to those that do not require significant attention from the brain (like eating a snack or sandwich, or listening to music). For other tasks, this is where technology can go against studying. Watching television does not help. And, of course, checking email or Facebook are detrimental. A recent article on Computers and Human Behavior talks about "Facebook and texting made me do it: Media-induced task-switching while studying":


"Those who accessed Facebook had lower GPAs than those who avoided it." I think this sentence in the above abstract captures it all.






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