Cognitive Overload and In-class Media Multitasking

In their study, Charles Calderwood, Phillip L. Ackerman and Erin Marie Conklin pointed out that due to the prevalence of cell phones and other communication technologies, media multitasking has become a way of life (19). The availability of media technologies to students in high schools and colleges makes students embrace media multitasking as a culture. Voorveld and van der Goot defined media multitasking as simultaneously engaging one or more media activities like browsing websites and listening to radio program, watching television and simultaneously reading a magazine, or checking e-mails and watching online videos (392). In the classroom situation, to open simultaneously multiple windows (of wikis, blogs, chatrooms and instant messaging) on a single or multiple media device(s), would be qualified as media multitasking (Calderwood, Ackerman and Conklin 20).

In the study done by Lui and Wong, they presumed that engaging in these activities enhances individuals’ ability to handle multiple sources of information. Lui and Wong maintained that media multitaskers developed great awareness of various information in their environment, and as well able to avoid cognitive deficiencies (647). But many other studies (e.g. Borst and Taatgen 364) on the impact of media multitasking show that while a college student might have the capacity to multitask during lecture, it does not mean the student becomes efficient in retaining information.brain_on_overload12

Bellur, Nowak and Hull study presented evidence about how heavy media multitaskers were more susceptible to perform poorly academically (64). Contrary to Lui and Wong’s claim, Bellur, Nowak and Hull pointed out that students who use technology in the classroom or while studying tend to have lower GPAs (64). This understanding has been corroborated by Lee, Lin and Robertson, as they gave a detailed explanation of how “cognitive load plays an important role in determining how much information is retained when students perform more than one task at a time” (96). By cognitive load, they meant the amount of working memory required for the learner to interpret the learning material or activity that is presented (Lee, Lin and Robertson 96). Matt Gerberick elaborates more on  Cognitive Load Theory thus.

These authors observed that media multitasking constituted extraneous cognitive load that interfered with learning because it placed additional burden on the working memory (Lee, Lin and Robertson 97-98). Contrary to Lui and Wong’s view, these observations about students’ media multitasking habits show that, as a cognitive overload, in-class media multitasking generates significant attentional conflicts.


Works Cited

Bellur, Saraswathi, Kristine L. Nowak and Kyle S. Hull. “Make It Our Time: In-Class Multitaskers Have Lower Academic Performance.” Computers in Human Behavior 53 (2015): 63–70. Print.

Borst, Jelmer P. and Niels A. Taatgen. “The Problem State: A Cognitive Bottleneck In Multitasking.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 36.2 (2010): 363-382. Print.

Calderwood, Charles, Phillip L. Ackerman and Erin Marie Conklin. “What Else Do College Students ‘Do’ While Studying? An Investigation of Multitasking.” Computer and Education 75 (2014) 19–29. Print.

Lee, Jennifer, Lin Lin and Tip Robertson. “The Impact of Media Multitasking On Learning.” Learning, Media and Technology 37:1 (2012): 94–104. Print.

Lui, Kelvin F. H. and Alan C.-N. Wong. “Does Media Multitasking Always Hurt? A Positive Correlation Between Multitasking And Multisensory Integration.” Psychon Bull Rev 19 (2012): 647–653. Print.

Voorveld, Hilde A. M. and Margot van der Goot. “Age Differences in Media Multitasking: A Diary Study.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 57.3 (2013): 392-408. Print.

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7 Responses to Cognitive Overload and In-class Media Multitasking

  1. Christopher says:

    In-class media multitasking needs monitoring to avoid distractions


  2. Tawanda Leo Pemhiwa says:

    The Cognitive Load of the human mind does not allow the human mind to engage in multiple activities distribute equal attention to all the activities. Some researchers have shown that multitasking has enabled and taught many students to deal with numerous information sources at the same time. One may agree with this but at the same time agree with other researchers that have proved that being able to handle many sources of information that not mean that a student can efficiently retain information.
    Other researchers have also proved that students who engage in In-Class Media Multitasking tend to produce poor grades and scores in examinations thus one may conclude that the Cognitive Load of a student only allows them to focus on a limited number of related activities.


  3. 1234 tasker says:

    During this age of mobile technologies, we all have become multitaskers: I cannot complete this work if I am not listening to not doing this or that, so it is argued, and not checking out my WhatsApp or Facebook in between (Calderwood 19-29). When one is multitasking, it is quite obvious that the action will harshly hinder capability to concentrate on single given task. This definitely begets unsatisfactory work and likely causes mental and physical exhaustion. And the mistakes made are. The number of mistakes made multiplies as the ability to memory processing and concentration is affected. A good number of research work shown by the author gives a clear indication that human brain is not designed to focus on many tasks at a given time (Borst and Taatgen 364).
    In a nutshell, I am not saying that humans can’t totally multitask. It may be possible to multitask. Only argument is that media multitasking, particularly in a class setup does yield poor results. So, if one wants to have a successful and fulfilling study life, a focused mind on the work or tasks; yields fruitful results and a great performance.


  4. hassan says:

    I disagree with Charles Calderwood, Phillip L. Ackerman and Erin Marie Conklin who have pointed out the fact that because of this prevalence of having cell phones and other communication technologies at our disposal is making media multitasking to become a way of life, which is true but I think it should not be followed and it should not become a culture students should engage themselves into. Bellur, Nowak and Hull claims make more sense because of the evidence which he has provided which also go in line with my position in the matter to say that, heavy media multitaskers perform poorly academically.


  5. Stephen Mashayamombe says:

    It is true that media multitasking enables simultaneous problem solving on a single gadget and this will enable effective problem solving in any given scenario as all this works will be done on a single gadget. However, the process doesn’t enable students to become efficient in returning information as the systems cultivates work overload.


  6. Kundai Chikomba says:

    Its very beneficial as one performs many tasks without any disturbances


  7. Livingstone Micol Tawanda says:

    The opinion that the availability of media technology to students in high school and colleges makes students embrace media multi tasking as their culture is valid. It is seen in most African counties , they out aside their culture and become mire attracted to this kind of new technology which results in media multi tasking. Indeed c students who engage in media multi tasking may develop great awareness of various information. This will benefit the to a lesser extent as they will not grasp everything that will be taught during lectures as compared to those who will be focusing on lectures. Therefore one may note that the statement, these authors observed that media multi tasking constituted extraneous cognitive load that interfered with learning because it placed addition burden on the working memory, this is true in the sense that it is difficult to concentrate on two different things while learning as the brain will need to concentrate on learning in order to grasp everything.


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