Breaking Free from Multitasking with Online Learning

The 2019 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn Learning shows that 59% of companies are spending more money on online learning and 39% less money on instructor-led training.

However, previous educational research has also found that multitasking during educational activities has a negative impact on learning. Will this impact employees taking online courses at work? How can you help staff better prepare for learning online?

We will examine this area of distractions and multitasking. My goal is to ensure your employees can learn recognition skills online without being distracted.

Multitasking’s Impact on Learning

Recent research by Dr. Lepp and his colleagues Jacob Barkley, Ph.D., and Aryn Karpinski, Ph.D., of Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services found that multitasking happens more frequently during online education than in-class instruction.

Apparently, the researchers found it is not unusual for online learners to multitask across three or four internet-connected devices at the same time.

For their research, they surveyed university students on how often they took part in typical multitasking behaviors during online courses they had previously taken and in face-to-face, in-class courses.

They defined multitasking behaviors as including:

·     Texting

·     Using social networking apps

·     Emailing

·     Off-task internet surfing

·     Talking

·     Doodling 

·     and, any other distracting behaviors

They also asked students for their preference for multitasking and their belief in their ability to self-regulate these behaviors.

Multitasking and Online Courses

No big surprise here, in that multitasking behavior is significantly greater with students participating in online courses compared with in-class courses. Interestingly, students who stated a higher preference for multitasking actually multitasked more frequently than those with a low inclination for multitasking.

However, with in-class instruction these same high preference multitasking students do not multitask more frequently than their low preference counterparts. Having a teacher present and peers, influences classroom expectations and regulates normative behaviors against multitasking.  

What about a student’s ability to self-regulate their multitasking behaviors? Students confident they could self-regulate their multitasking, multitasked less during in-class instruction that those not confident in their abilities to self-regulate. But for online courses even those who thought they could self-regulate had a hard time resisting multitasking behaviors.

Implications for Employees and Online Courses

Like most behaviors in our lives we can learn and unlearn what is essential for optimal performance. As recognition professionals we need to provide the environment, advice, and skills to our employees for minimizing multitasking, which we know inhibits effective learning.

Provide staff with instructions in your online learning to remove all distractions. Explain that removing distractions and refraining from multitasking will help them to learn better and retain the recognition skills they will learn.

Recommend to employees taking any eLearning module on employee recognition skills, to do the following:

  • Plan in and set aside the time you need to take this online course.
  • Remove all distractions from view.
  • Turn your smartphone or tablet off or put it on airplane mode.
  • Take care of any urgent messaging by text or email before you take the course.
  • Refrain from responding to texts or email during your online learning session––with your phone off or on do not disturb mode this should eliminate this distraction.
  • Choose a different environment from your regular work area to take the online course.
  • Set up a learning lab for employees or if you have a company library provide online course access on computers with headsets

If you want to encourage staff to learn how to give meaningful and effective recognition skills through online, eLearning modules, like Rideau’s Vistance Learning® offering, set clear expectations for no multitasking and to remove distractions.

Recognition Reflection: How are you instructing employees to focus during online learning and eliminate multitasking behaviors?

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