Timing and relevance of secondary tasks impact multitasking performance


COMPUTERS & EDUCATION, vol.161, 2021 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 161
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.compedu.2020.104078
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, Periodicals Index Online, Aerospace Database, Applied Science & Technology Source, Communication Abstracts, Computer & Applied Sciences, EBSCO Education Source, Education Abstracts, Educational research abstracts (ERA), INSPEC, Metadex, Psycinfo, DIALNET, Civil Engineering Abstracts
  • Keywords: Human-computer interface, Media in education, Pedagogical issues, Post-secondary education, MEDIA MULTITASKING, WORKING-MEMORY, COGNITIVE LOAD, INTERRUPTION, DISTRACTION, TECHNOLOGY, MODEL, TIME
  • Anadolu University Affiliated: Yes


While digital natives are sometimes perceived as effective multitaskers, empirical studies suggest that multitasking is associated with negative learning outcomes. In this regard, an experiment was conducted to see the effects of secondary task relevance and timing on learning from multimedia presentations. A total of 356 undergraduate students were assigned randomly to either a control condition or one of the multitasking conditions (i.e., relevant-sequential, relevant-concurrent, irrelevant-sequential, and irrelevant-concurrent). While the primary task involved watching a biology video on the life cycle of the malaria parasite, the secondary tasks involved either relevant or irrelevant chat questions, which were presented either concurrently or sequentially with the primary task. Computation span and topic interest were measured as potential covariates. The computation span correlated with the gain scores towards the post-test so it was considered as a covariate. ANCOVA results revealed significant differences across the groups. The students in the control group were more successful than those in the irrelevant-sequential, the irrelevant-concurrent, and the relevant-concurrent conditions. However, the difference between the control group and the relevant-sequential group was not significant. The findings are likely to guide further research on multitasking performance and interactive video design in online learning environments.