Multi-tasking is a Myth, Researcher John Medina Maintains

Many of us may need to rearrange the way we work, reconsider our understanding of multi-tasking, and rethink how we supervise our children during homework time. According to Professor John Medina, the brain cannot multitask efficiently.

Dr. Medina, a respected molecular biologist who teaches at the University of Washington, published Brain Rules in 2008, and his book spent many weeks on the New York Times best seller list. In this entertaining read he discusses 12 important brain rules with one chapter devoted to multitasking. Addressing the widely accepted view that in the digital age we all multi-task effectively, Dr. Medina explains why the brain has trouble with multi-tasking and why this practice can cause trouble for learners, workers, and especially for pre-teens and adolescents. Many entertaining video explanations of the 12 brain rules are posted at his website.

Click on this chart to visit Dr. Medina's site and learn more about the relationship between multi-tasking and making errors. Used with permission.

When a student does homework while chat, a DVD, Facebook, texting, and other media are all active and constantly interrupting, no task, especially the homework, can be accomplished efficiently. Dr. Medina explains that the brain goes through a series of four steps each time a change in focus occurs. When a person changes an activity — from math to Facebook, for instance — the brain proceeds through these four steps. It is distracted, disengages, re-engages, and starts the new task. The brain is not multi-tasking, but rather using up valuable time switching from one thing to another. Thus people, but especially young learners, lose a significant amount of concentrated working time if these four steps occur over and over during an evening of study.

Visit Professor Medina’s BrainRules.net web site and also watch him explain what happens when a person switches between activities. An amazing graph (click on small reproduction at above left, used with permission), comparing the number or errors made by people who are multi-tasking with those who do not, provides further evidence that a media-filled, multi-tasking environment may actually be hurting our children when they do homework.

Click on the video to watch Dr. Medina presenting a lecture about Brain Rules in the Authors@Google series.

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