Geoff Fouracre The Myth of Multitasking




For the last 10 years or so I have spoken to school staff, students and parents about what the research says concerning effective time and the impact of using social media during study times.  Unfortunately the news is not good!  It is important to know that the same principles that apply to students studying for their HSC also apply to all students, across the age groups.   I will share some of those important principles below and some of the research that led to them.

  1. Using social media whilst studying dramatically reduces the effectiveness of study.

Many students (research suggests most students) will have a mobile phone or computer handy whilst they study, and will regularly check for messages and social media posts whilst they study.  The research on this is clear; casually checking social media (Facebook, Instagram, What’s App, Tumblr, Snapchat, Texts etc.) whilst studying will dramatically reduce the effectiveness of any study that is attempted.  This is for several reasons.

Firstly, there is the loss of time associated with continually shifting focus.  For teenagers this is very serious as some studies have shown that it can take several minutes for students to regain their concentration and get back on task.

Secondly, the investment of emotional energy that goes along with checking messages and posts can be a big distraction, especially if the messages and posts are of a negative nature.  Refocussing under such circumstances takes then even longer.  If the messages and posts require a response, further time is involved.

One study of 263 High School and University students found that 24 minutes every hour is ineffective if students have interactions with social media whilst they study.  That is, a massive 40% of study effort is wasted!

Another research study entitled “The Relationship between Multitasking and Academic Performance”  concluded that using Facebook and texting whilst studying was a strong negative predictor of academic success.  In other words, the more you use social media whilst studying, the worse your academic results will be.  In HSC terms, this could equate to a slight reduction in a student’s ATAR; potentially the difference between obtaining a place in the student’s university course of choice or not.

  1. Effective Multi-Tasking is a myth

Numerous research studies have shown that the often quoted statement “but teenagers can effectively multi-task whilst studying!” is a myth.  The research clearly demonstrates that the most effective study is done with only one focus (i.e. study!), and without other distractions such as listening to music, watching television (and of course checking social media).

Some studies have suggested that multi-tasking reduces study effectiveness by 40%, increases stress levels, reduces productivity, and reduces the quality of the work you produce after studying.  It has even been linked to decreased brain function.

The simple message is – don’t multi-task whilst studying!

  1. Studying late at night is not effective

Studies have shown that many of our students are working on school assessments and studying late into the early hours of the morning. This conclusion has been reached by investigating internet records of when students are accessing online resources.  One online Science Resource Centre Database monitored access by High School students. In a one month study, 22% those sessions took place between 12.00 midnight and 4.00 a.m.

Whilst it may be encouraging to think that our children are being industrious by beavering away at online research in the wee hours, it also tells us that there is something very wrong with their time management. Is it possible that they were so busy on social networking sites in the normal evening hours that they had to push out their study time to when they should be asleep?

No-one with a conservative usage of social media and doing a reasonable amount of study should be completing assessments at those hours.  Many studies have shown that each weeknight, thousands of high school students are lying in bed at all hours, texting, Facebooking and indulging in a host of other online activities.  When teenagers lack sleep a whole range of negative factors come into play, including increased risks of anxiety, depression and decreased academic performance.

These are important matters and it behoves us as parents to be aware of what, how and when our children are studying.

Geoffrey Fouracre



Facebook and Texting Made Me Do it: Media-induced Task-switching while Studying” Computers in Human Behaviour, 2013

“The Relationship between Multitasking and Academic Performance”  in Computers & Education, 2012, Vol. 59, Issue 2,

“High media multi-tasking is associated with smaller grey-matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex” published in Plos One, September, 2014