Monday, August 31, 2009

Do multi-taskers make good employees?

I was very interested in a new study on chronic multi-tasking run by Stanford University professor Clifford Nass. Specifically professor Nass looked at the new bread of media multi-taskers. People who are receiving and using multiple, unrelated streams of information at once, like chatting with a number of different people, while working on a paper, while reading, and listening to TV. They studied chronic multi-taskers and found that multi-tasking impaired a person’s cognitive processes at most of the types of thinking we categorize as deep thought. Surprisingly the study found that chronic multi-taskers are really bad at being able to filter relative information, manage their working memory, and are slower at switching tasks. They concluded that chronic multi-tasking harms a person’s ability to think.

Additionally they found that there were different patterns of chronic multi-tasking in different generations. Teens and twenty’s want to do it, while thirty plus have had it forced upon them. Across the board they find that chronic multi-tasking is a growing trend in all age groups. Not surprisingly chronic multi-taksers believe that they are competent when performing these tasks. They give themselves a lot of credit for getting lots of information from multiple sources.

So how does this relate to business and specifically eLearning. I have attended a number of conferences where the speakers tell us we should be modifying our courses to cater to young people who are use to simultaneously receiving lots of media stimulation. This study clearly demonstrates that people might be chronically multi-tasking but that this behavior is not conducive for thinking and learning. I have always contended that an organization should build internal training that works for the corporation’s culture. Modifying material so that it appeals to a new demographic has always been counter-intuitive to me. Good training should be focused on meeting a companies goals and meeting a course objectives. Typically this is assuring the employee can demonstrate an understanding of the material being presented. The goal of a course creator should be to focus on presenting information in an instructionally sound way.

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