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Opening Arguments

Too distracted to learn

The dangers of multi-tasking:

Concern about young people’s use of technology is nothing new, of course. But Rosen’s study, published in the May issue of Computers in Human Behavior, is part of a growing body of research focused on a very particular use of technology: media multitasking while learning. Attending to multiple streams of information and entertainment while studying, doing homework, or even sitting in class has become common behavior among young people—so common that many of them rarely write a paper or complete a problem set any other way.

But evidence from psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience suggests that when students multitask while doing schoolwork, their learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had their full attention. They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts. So detrimental is this practice that some researchers are proposing that a new prerequisite for academic and even professional success—the new marshmallow test of self-discipline—is the ability to resist a blinking inbox or a buzzing phone.

It's long been argued that the more knowledge the information revolution dumps on us, the greater the need is for schools to return to the basics. It's less and less possible for students to learn all they need to know, but if they are well armed with reading, writing and math skills, they'll be able to wade through it all and sort the important stuff from the trivial.

Maybe there's a similar need for technology. The more it proliferates, the greater the need is for schools to use it sparingly. All those multiple streams provide are facts, or often just information/entertainment masquerading as facts. To use those facts requires thinking about them, which requires a little quiet time. At some point it's helpful to turn everything off and let students do the old-fashioned job of learning with a book, a piece of paper and a teacher standing in front of them.

Posted in: Current events