Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. faria sana, Tina Weston & Nicholas Cepeda

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Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers

  • a McMaster University, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience, & Behaviour, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada
  • b York University, Department of Psychology, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3, Canada
  • c York University, LaMarsh Centre for Child and Youth Research, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3, Canada
  Open Access


Laptops are commonplace in university classrooms. In light of cognitive psychology theory on costs associated with multitasking, we examined the effects of in-class laptop use on student learning in a simulated classroom. We found that participants who multitasked on a laptop during a lecture scored lower on a test compared to those who did not multitask, and participants who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared to those who were not. The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.


► We examined the detrimental effects of laptop multitasking on classroom learning. ► Learners who multitasked during class had reduced comprehension of lecture material. ► Learners in-view of multitaskers also had reduced comprehension of lecture material. ► Multitasking or being seated around multitaskers impedes classroom learning.


  • Laptops
  • Multitasking
  • Attentional control
  • Pedagogy

1. Introduction

Multitasking is ingrained in our daily lives. As you read this article, you may also be attending to a text message, sipping coffee, or writing out a list of to-dos. Such a lifestyle is intended to increase efficiency; however, there are limitations to how well multiple tasks can be carried out concurrently (Posner, 1982). Multitasking places considerable demands on cognitive resources, which, in turn, degrades overall performance, as well as performance on each task in isolation (Broadbent, 1958). The issue of multitasking and its consequences has become a growing concern in education, as students are more commonly found engaged with their laptops or smartphones during class time. The current study investigated the effect of laptop multitasking on both users and nearby peers in a classroom setting.
There is a host of theoretical and experimental research on divided attention and dual-task interference, terms that we consider homologous to multitasking and therefore relevant to the current discussion. Research suggests that we have limited resources available to attend to, process, encode, and store information for later retrieval (Posner, 1982). When focused on a single primary task, our attentional resources are well directed and uninterrupted, and information is adequately processed, encoded, and stored (Naveh-Benjamin, Craik, Perretta, & Tonev, 2000). When we add a secondary task, attention must be divided, and processing of incoming information becomes fragmented. As a result, encoding is disrupted, and this reduces the quantity and quality of information that is stored (Pashler, 1994). When we eventually retrieve information that was processed without interruptions, as a primary task, we are likely to experience minimal errors. When we retrieve information that was processed via multitasking or with significant interruptions from a secondary task, we are more likely to experience some form of performance decrement (Wickens & Hollands, 2000).

Indeed, managing two or more tasks at one time requires a great deal of attention. Attentional resources are not infinite (Konig, Buhner, & Murling, 2005Pashler, 1994). When the level of available attentional resources is less than what is required to complete two simultaneous tasks, performance decrements are experienced since both tasks are competing for the same limited resources. This is especially true if both tasks are competing for resources within the same sensory modality (Navon & Gopher, 1979Wickens, 2002Wickens & Hollands, 2000). Limits to attentional resources means the quality (accuracy) and efficiency (reaction time) at which multiple tasks are processed will be compromised (Rubinstein, Meyer, & Evans, 2001). Numerous experimental studies have shown performance decrements under conditions of multitasking or divided attention (e.g., Broadbent, 1958Tulving & Thomson, 1973).
Theoretical and empirical findings on multitasking are especially significant when considered in the context of student learning. In classroom environments, students tend to switch back and forth between academic and non-academic tasks (Fried, 2008). This behavior poses concerns for learning. The presumed primary tasks in many university classes are to listen to a lecture, consolidate information spoken by the instructor and presented on information slides, take notes, and ask or respond to questions. On their own, these activities require effort. If a secondary task is introduced, particularly one that is irrelevant to the learning context, attention must shift back and forth between primary and secondary tasks, thereby taxing attentional resources. This multitasking can result in weaker encoding of primary information into long-term memory (Bailey & Konstan, 2006Ophira, Nass, & Wagner, 2009).(leer más...)
Fuente: [bama ua .edu]