Doing several things poorly.
Multitasking refers to either the ability to pay attention to several pieces of information at the same time or the process of performing more than one task at the same time.
In short, no. Multitasking is a misnomer, because what learners actually do is task-switch very quickly between tasks, while focusing their conscious attention on only one task. Depending on the type of tasks attempted and the level of automation of one of the tasks, learners – and faculty – may believe they can multitask.
Working memory has limits to how much information it can process (see Memory and Learning). While working memory creates a bottleneck for learning, there are two mechanisms that free up working memory and allow us to achieve much higher levels of cognition:
When people are able to do multiple tasks at once, this is because at least one of their tasks has been automated, not because people are multitasking. Consider the following tasks:
The first two examples are often easy to do because at least one of the tasks is carried out unconsciously (listening to music). The tasks in the last example cannot be automated because they require the person to make conscious decisions at unpredictable points. In these instances, if a person is attempting to do both tasks at once they are actually switching back and forth quickly between tasks. In the first two examples, one of the tasks may at some point require decisions and task switching will occur as well. For example, if while driving an accident occurs in front of you, you would be unable to continue your conversation because your working memory will be focused on driving to avoid the accident.
Task switching is usually an inefficient way to accomplish multiple tasks, and can have negative consequences for both how well the task is done and for the person attempting the task. The following are mainly correlational findings from a broad range of research on the costs of task-switching:
Because of the variety of negative consequences for both the learner and the quality of learning, students should avoid task-switching when learning and studying.
The Pomodoro Technique is one method for teaching students to focus on individual tasks. Students set a timer for 25 minutes and work only on the assigned task. If they feel distracted by a thought or urge, they write the thought down for later and continue with the main task. They then rest for 5 minutes and repeat. This process promotes self-regulation by requiring students to track how much time they put towards a task and making them aware of how often they become distracted while working
The main implication for teaching is to create experiences where students do not need to task switch. The two main areas are: