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The one consistent defense I hear when I suggest that multitasking doesn’t exist (i.e. that learners don’t actually multitask…they rapidly task switch, leaving observers with the impression they are managing multiple tools/attention streams) is some variation of “how do you explain my daughter (or son, grandchild) who is able to text, watch TV, and work on the computer at the same time?”. It’s difficult to accept research evidence in the face of personal observation. A report on multitasking (via Mark Bullen) states “heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set”. BBC provides more commentary.


  1. Tom Whyte wrote:

    Then I guess, breathing, thinking, seeing, walking and talking makes us all multitaskers. However, there are higher order thinking, and lower order functions. I can have the TV on while working on the computer, but am I really watching TV… I think not. I have tried to have students form comprehensible txt’s while doing other higher order thinking in class at the same time (not switching) and the results are always bad…

    Just thought I would add my two cents…

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  2. Ruth Elliott wrote:

    What do you think of “continuous partial attention” which some people (like danah boyd or Mack Male) seem to be able to give to more than one task at a time? Is this the same as multi-tasking or something different? Is this a generational thing?

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink
  3. gsiemens wrote:

    Tom – the report listed does provide a similar distinction to what you list (higher/lower order)…but they use the distinction to refer not to level of thought but rather to degree of multitasking. As well, the report supports your comment – i.e. multitasking research almost always produces “bad” results. Attention requires a shift in focus. When we pay attention to several elements at once, something is lost in understanding.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 7:28 am | Permalink
  4. JT wrote:

    There is no such thing as multitasking (other than breathing, seeing, walking, and chewing gum simultaneously) when doing higher level tasks such as learning. What students do is more closely related to multiplexing. Multiplexing, or more correctly, Time Division Multiplexing, is a communications technology where multiple circuits are served in turn for very short periods of time. Data is not transmitted or received simultaneously. Data from one circuit is transmitted or received for short time slice, then the next circuit is served, and the next, etc. This is what students do today. The result is surface level thinking as opposed to deep thought.

    Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink