When’s a good time to multitask?

Multitasking is tricky. I work in a busy kitchen and bar and if you are only doing one thing at a time, you aren’t doing your job properly. It has just become regular activity to pour a beer and talk to a customer at the same time. But multitasking isn’t something I only do at work, or when I want things to get done quickly. In fact I am multitasking right now.

So what is media multitasking? Vega defines media multitasking as ‘engaging in multiple media activities simultaneously, including multiple windows on a single media platform and/or multiple media.’ (2009, pp. 3).  So, it would be considered media multitasking if whilst writing this blog, I am also jumping through multiple tabs such as various research journals, but also facebook, youtube, reddit all while listening to Kanye West’s Yeezus album.


[SCREENSHOT]: Media Multitasking

But how effective is media multitasking? In a study conducted by Lee et al. they found that when it comes to media multitasking and learning, it “generates extraneous cognitive load that burdens the working memory” (2012, pp. 102). Therefore, media multitasking could in fact have the complete reverse effect we think it may have. When learning, rather than achieving multiple goals at a single time, media multitasking is overloading our cognitive load thus inhibiting our memory.

If that is the case, why do we still multitask? Similarly Wang and Tchernev found that multitasking resulted in a reduced cognitive response (2012). However, Wang and Tchernev also concluded that when people are faced with a frenzied workload, multitasking appears as the only option, as Wang and Tchernev state,  “cognitive needs are not satisfied by media multitasking even though they drive media multitasking in the first place” (2012, pp. 493).

So when it comes to sitting in class or a lecture, I guess it is time to close all those social media and online shopping tabs down and just listen for once.


Lee, J, Lin, L & Robertson, T 2012, ‘ The impact of media multitasking on learning, Learning, Media and Technology’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 37, no. 1, p. 94 – 104.

Wang, Z & Tchernev, J 2012, ‘The ‘‘Myth’’ of Media Multitasking: Reciprocal Dynamics of Media Multitasking, Personal Needs, and Gratifications’, Journal of Communication, vol. 62, p. 493 – 513.

Vega, V 2009, ‘Seminar on the impacts of media multitasking on children’s learning & development’, Report from a research seminar, Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University.


One thought on “When’s a good time to multitask?

  1. I think the practice of media multitasking at school can have a negative impact on learning rather than a positive one. For example, scanning Facebook whilst listening to a lecture is obviously going to prevent that student from giving the presenter their full attention, but even reading a print-out of the lecture slides could cause this. The question is, to what extent is multitasking okay in school?

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