Elevator Pitch on Multitasking

Multitasking is the mythic capability of people to perform more than one task at a time. A youngster who is messaging a friend on a computer computer, carrying on a text message conversation with another friend on a phone, and listening to music all while doing homework is multitasking. (So is that youngster’s parent who is talking on the cell phone while driving.)

Several years ago, there was some suggestion that young people are able to multitask better than adults; more recent research has questioned that conclusion. Upon closers examination, we find the evidence suggests youngsters are not multitasking, but they are quickly task-switching. When task-switching, humans are using time and cognitive capacity stopping one task and restarting another. It leads to inefficient cognitive processes.

Educators must recognize this the fact that youngsters will attempt to multitask, so we must develop strategies that encourage engagement and reduce the desire to be distracted, while we teach strategies for reducing distraction, and while we model those strategies.