Article   August 08 2023

Avoid task switching in learning

The complexity in todays’ work life is steadily increasing. So is the demand for constant and ongoing learning. But how do we explain complex topics? The answer: By avoiding task switching and taking one thing at a time. Here’s why.

Person holding an open book. Laptop computer and cellphone in background

Image: (license free)

When creating learning content on our NanoLearning-platform the content producer is guided by some technical features and rules based on a mix of best practice and learning research. 

To put it simply, these features are designed to avoid task switching and to keep focus on one thing at a time. Simply because this is what (all) human brains need to remember what they learn. 

Multi-tasking or task switching – a huge difference

There’s a lot of talk about multi-tasking. Both as a high demand skill in today’s work life, but also as a risk behaviour possibly leading to illness. 

Unfortunately there’s a lot less talk about task-switching, which is perhaps even more common, more inefficient, and potentially a greater threat to a healthy work environment. 

Multi-tasking means using the capacity of both your implicit and explicit memory at the same time. And it usually works fine. Like walk and talks for example. There are many studies that indicate that walking and talking at the same time even increases our thinking ability. 

The reason for this is that a walk and talk session utilizes two different types of our human memory. Walking, a part of our implicit memory, doesn't require much energy to carry out, whilst the talking (and listening) is a part of our explicit memory

But here’s the thing: We can't use our explicit memory in two different ways at the same time. For example, we can't read and have a conversation with a colleague at the same time. Or sit and write an email while we actively participate and pay attention in a meeting. We might pretend that we can, but we miss out on information doing it.

What happens in these situations is that the explicit memory task-switches between the two tasks. This has been proven to be very inefficient,as it takes more time for the brain to switch between multiple tasks.

Learning requires focus

The same thing applies when designing learning. If we use text in combination with video and sound at the same time, we’re forcing the brain of the learner to task-switch, and consequently lowering the capacity of the explicit memory. This means that som of the things we wanted our audience to remember – are pretty much gone. This is also why NanoLearning is a textbased learning method - it helps the learner to stay focused. 

Anyone who wants their targeted audiences to remember what they learn, need to avoid task-switching, and to focus on one thing at a time. 

Per Lagerström
Article   August 08 2023