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Communication in the Real World: Blog

Entries in media multitasking (2)


Media Multitasking - Are We Addicted To Technology? Do We Have Shorter Attention Spans?

Of course, the questions I pose - "Are we addicted to technology?" and "Do We Have Shorter Attention Spans?" - are loaded. They aren't "yes" or "no" questions. True, research shows that we multitask with media more often than ever before, but the effects of that multitasking on our attention and productivity aren't cut and dry. Anecdotally, I know most of us (at least those of us over 30) would probably have negative things to say about media multitasking, like: " My students can't sit through a class without checking their phones." of "My daughter texts, tweets, and listens to Spotify while she's doing her homework."

There is a growing body of research on media multitasking. You can see a blog entry I wrote about it last year here:

For an in-depth discussion of media multitasking, check out the Kaiser Family Foundation's report.

Below is a great infographic from about the interaction between media multitasking and learning:

Online Learning and Multitasking


Digital Natives and Media Multitasking: Should Students Be Able to Use Laptops in Class?

Media multitasking specifically refers to the use of multiple forms of media at the same time, and it can have positive and negative effects on listening.[i] The negative effects of media multitasking have received much attention in recent years, as people question the decreasing attention span within our society. Media multitasking may promote inefficiency, because it can lead to distractions and plays a prominent role for many in procrastination. The numerous options for media engagement that we have can also lead to a feeling of chaos as our attention is pulled in multiple directions, creating a general sense of disorder. And many of us feel a sense of enslavement when we engage in media multitasking, as we feel like we can’t live without certain personal media outlets.

Media multitasking can also give people a sense of control, as they use multiple technologies to access various points of information to solve a problem or complete a task. An employee may be able to use her iPad to look up information needed to address a concern raised during a business meeting. She could then e-mail that link to the presenter, who could share it with the room through his laptop and a LCD projector.

Media multitasking can also increase efficiency, as people can carry out tasks faster. The links to videos and online articles that I included in my book, Communication in the Real World, allow readers to quickly access additional information about a particular subject to prepare for a presentation or complete a paper assignment.

Media multitasking can also increase engagement. Aside from just reading material in a textbook, students can now access information through an author’s blog (like this one) or Twitter account.

Media multitasking can produce an experience that feels productive, but is it really? What are the consequences of our media- and technology-saturated world?

Although many of us like to think that we’re good multitaskers, some research indicates otherwise. For example, student laptop use during class has been connected to lower academic performance.[ii] This is because media multitasking has the potential to interfere with listening at multiple stages of the process.

The study showed that laptop use interfered with receiving, as students using them reported that they paid less attention to the class lectures. This is because students used the laptops for purposes other than taking notes or exploring class content. Of the students using laptops, 81 percent checked e-mail during lectures, 68 percent used instant messaging, and 43 percent surfed the web. Students using laptops also had difficulty with the interpretation stage of listening, as they found less clarity in the parts of the lecture they heard and did not understand the course material as much as students who didn’t use a laptop.

The difficulties with receiving and interpreting obviously create issues with recall that can lead to lower academic performance in the class. Laptop use also negatively affected the listening abilities of students not using laptops. These students reported that they were distracted, as their attention was drawn to the laptop screens of other students.

Questions to Consider: 

1. What are some common ways that you engage in media multitasking? What are some positive and negative consequences of your media multitasking?

2. What strategies do you or could you use to help minimize the negative effects of media multitasking?

3. Should laptops, smartphones, and other media devices be used by students during college classes? Why or why not? What restrictions or guidelines for use could instructors provide that would capitalize on the presence of such media to enhance student learning and help minimize distractions?

[i] Fleura Bardhi, Andres J Rohm, and Fareena Sultan, “Tuning in and Tuning out: Media Multitasking among Young Consumers,” Journal of Consumer Behaviour 9 (2010): 322.

[ii] Carrie B. Fried, “In-Class Laptop Use and its Effects on Student Learning,” Computers and Education 50 (2008): 906–14.