Are we distracted by the multitude of applications open on our computers?

A study at the University of Plymouth once looked at graduate students’ use of Web 2.0 technologies when they were studying in their daily working environment. The study found that at least 50% of the applications students had open at any one time were actually leisure applications.

The kind of websites that students were accessing were 4:1 in favour of non-work type over websites relevant to their study. Typically, they spent 3–4 min at one thing before they surfed on to something else.

This has implications for distraction because in effect the students were CHOOSING to be distracted.  There were a variety of reasons given for this.  Some students said it was essential to have access to social or leisure applications in order to sustain them through long periods of studying. So on their computer, as well as obviously work-related programs such as Office applications, the academic library, and reference citation and data analysis applications, they would typically have email, Google, Instant Messenger, social networks, Twitter and similar open at the same time.

Is it more difficult to study when there is a lot of distraction – or does doing a variety of tasks make it easier?  Just because traditionally concentration and focus have been thought to be the ideal way to study doesn’t mean that it is the only or even the main way nowadays. I’m on the lookout for any other research which shows the benefit or not of multi-tasking while studying – or indeed, while working.

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