Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Myth of Multi-Tasking Adversely Impacts the Pursuit of Professional Competency

In today’s culture, a student may have an essay on the computer screen, the smartphone with social media blinking within eyesight, either the television or music blasting, and friends nearby.  All these things are vying for the student’s attention.  Incorrectly believing this scenario exhibits proficiency in multi-tasking, students ignore the psychological and cognitive drain resulting from the barrage upon their senses.  While white noise can be comforting, the choice of background static can place an overload upon cognition (Reason, 2010).   
Everyone possesses the mental capacity to carry on an academic task while subtly monitoring the environment for other relevant input.  This is known as the cocktail effect (Bronkhorst, 2000; Cherry, 1953).  The danger of the myth of multi-tasking is when the academic task receives too little respect, which then increases the likelihood of noticing other influences (Brungart & Simpson, 2007).  Since every student possesses only a limited number of focal points that can be attended at a given time (Barra, Bray, Sahni, Golding, & Gresty, 2006) mental overload increases whenever the immediate environment includes competing stimuli. 
Humans are social beings.  Therefore, family, friends, and faith are three potent, consuming focal points (Reason, 2010).  Whenever these focal points enter an environment requiring academic learning, recall, or synthesizing of knowledge, then family, friends, and faith focal points would completely win out or result in rapid mental overload.  Acknowledging principles of motivation, effective students mitigate the myth of multi-tasking by recognizing continually monitored focal points in their work lives depends on established and supported values. 
The effective student optimizes the learning environment by reducing family, friends, and faith focal points when accessing structured learning opportunities that may, by contrast, be less interesting, relevant, or motivating.  Strategies in this endeavor mitigate learning overload.  Learning overload, exacerbated by giving into the myth of multi-tasking prevents students from realizing progress and achieving stated goals (Reason, 2010).  Citing Kennedy (2006) and Franklin (2005), Reason (2010) further notes, “We can’t alter the brain to hold more information, but we can change our approach to learning in ways that reduce overwhelm and prepare us to deal with institutional challenges more effectively” (p. 99). 
In any learning situation, the student’s reticular activating system (RAS) impacts his or her attention and motivation.  Therefore, the RAS affects how efficiently students achieve academic success.  The effective student recognizes the need to “clearly identify the learning focal points that matter” (Reason, 2010, p. 100) as a way to mitigate stimuli that overwhelms one’s perception and attention to curriculum focal points. 
There are characteristics exhibited by successful compared to unsuccessful students.  Successful students exhibit a combination of successful attitudes and behaviors as well as intellectual capacity.  As cited by Cameron, Ludewig (1992) identified ten key characteristics:
1)     Successful students get involved in their studies, accept responsibility for their own education, and are active participants in it!
2)     Successful students have legitimate goals and are motivated by what the goals represent in terms of career aspirations and life's desires.  When you are not setting effective goals then everything can and will distract you! 
3)     Successful students ask questions to provide the quickest route between ignorance and knowledge. 
4)     Successful student learns that a student and teacher make a team.  Be a team player!
5)     Successful students minimize classroom distractions that interfere with learning. Students want the best seat available for their entertainment dollars, but willingly seek the worst seat for their educational dollars. Students who sit in the back cannot possibly be an effective teammate.
6)     Successful students take understandable and organized notes.  Then they review these effective notes often.
7)     Successful students know their personal behavior affect their feelings and emotions, which in turn can affect learning.  If you act in a certain way that normally produces particular feelings, you will begin to experience those feelings.  Act like you're bored, and you'll become bored.  Act like you're disinterested, and you'll become disinterested.  So the next time you have trouble concentrating in the classroom, "act" like an interested person: lean forward, place your feet flat on the floor, maintain eye contact with the instructor, nod occasionally, take notes, and ask questions.  Not only will you benefit directly from your actions, your classmates and teacher may also get more excited and enthusiastic.
8)     Successful students get to know something well enough that they can put it into words-either verbally or in writing.  Transferring ideas into words provides the most direct path for moving knowledge from short-term to long-term memory.  You really don't "know" material until you can put it into words or action.
9)     Successful students know that divided periods of study are more effective than cram sessions, and they practice this reality.  Distributed study is better than massed, late-night, last-ditch efforts known as cramming.
10) Successful students are good time managers.  They avoid procrastination. They have learned that time control is life control and have consciously chosen to be in control of their life.  An elemental truth: you will either control time or be controlled by it!

If, as Vygotsky (1979) suggested, the most important thing a culture passes on to its members are psychological tools, then mitigating potential damage caused by the myth of multi-tasking would indeed be a great tool to teach!  In the FAT City Workshop, Lavoie (1989) advocates for mitigation of frustration, anxiety, and tension (FAT) within learning environments.  By learning to mitigate the myth of multitasking, prospective and in-service teachers can then more effectively model for students how to eliminate FAT in academics and thereby optimize a learning environment approaching nirvana (LEAN).

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (September 7, 2013) The myth of multi-tasking adversely impacts the pursuit
            of professional competency.  [Web log post]  Retrieved from

Cameron, N. E. (n.d.). Successful students. University of Manitoba.  Retrieved from: 

Lavoie, R. (1989) How difficult can this be? F.A.T. City--A learning disabilities workshop DVD

               Retrieved from

Ludewig, L.M., (1992) Ten Commandments for Effective Study Skills. The Teaching Professor.


Nass, C (May 10, 2013) The myth of multitasking.  NPR interview. Retrieved from:

Reason, C. (2010). Leading a learning organization: The science of working with others.

               Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Taylor, J. (March 30, 2011) Technology: Myth of multitasking.  Retrieved from

Tudge, J., & Scrimsher, S. (2003). Lev S. Vygotsky on education: A cultural-historical,

               interpersonal, and individual approach to development. In B. J. Zimmerman &

D. H. Schunk (Eds.), Educational psychology: A century of contributions

(pp. 207–228) Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.