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©2015JupiterImagesAmy Sexton, Kaplan University Tutor

Multitasking is often lauded as a way for busy professionals and students to accomplish multiple tasks in less time, but multitasking can often be detrimental, especially in online learning. While there are opportunities for meaningful multitasking in online learning, it should be approached strategically with some important caveats in mind.

First, online synchronous meetings like seminars, regular course meetings, study dates, and tutorial sessions should be treated like face to face meetings, not as opportunities to multitask. While students may be tempted to attend to other tasks or obligations while participating in online meetings, doing so most often results in students not being able to pay full attention to what is going on in the meeting. For example, students sometimes drop in for our academic support centers’ live tutoring sessions while they are attending to their children. This may be fine – as long as the children are napping or occupied – but can result in unproductive sessions if the children are loud, upset, boisterous, or demanding the student’s attention. This is one reason that, in most physical classrooms and academic support centers, students, faculty, and tutors bringing their children on campus is the exception and not the rule.

Similarly students studying online are often tempted by the knowledge that their favorite social media outlet, web site, or unanswered text message is just a tab or an arm’s length away. This is referred to as media multitasking (Paul, 2013), and clearly, students who are accessing their course materials online may feel more temptation than students who are in a physical classroom, where their use of electronics may be monitored or even prohibited.

However, students should avoid the temptation to comment on that status or respond to that text. According to psychologist Larry Rosen, tasks like e-mailing, updating or checking social media, or texting while learning and studying, while they seem quite simple, “draw on the same mental resources—using language, parsing meaning—demanded by schoolwork” (as cited in Paul, 2013). Other negative effects of media multitasking include more time spent on the schoolwork, brain fatigue from constantly switching from one task to another, impaired memory, decreased ability to transfer learning, and, possibly, a lower grade point average (Paul, 2013).

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