Mobile Phone Multitasking and Learning

Mobile Phone Multitasking and Learning

Rogelio Carrillo (California State University – Los Angeles, USA & Children's Digital Media Center – Los Angeles (UCLA/CSULA), USA) and Kaveri Subrahmanyam (California State University – Los Angeles, USA & Children's Digital Media Center – Los Angeles (UCLA/CSULA), USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch007
OnDemand PDF Download:
List Price: $37.50


In recent years, mobile phones and smart devices have become commonplace in the classroom. Students often use them while engaged in learning, both in and out of the classroom. Although such use is referred to as multitasking, researchers have noted that the learner is rapidly switching between different activities on one device or on multiple devices/media. In this article, the authors describe and discuss the research that has examined the relation between such multitasking using mobile phones or laptops and learning. A review of the extant research suggests that the effects of multitasking depend on the learning setting. Studies conducted in the laboratory have found differences between multitasking and non-multitasking participants with regard to efficiency, but not comprehension. In contrast, studies that have examined the effect of multitasking during live lectures have found negative effects on learning and recall. This article discusses possible reasons for these differences, examine the implications for learning, and identify questions for future research.
Chapter Preview


Although mobile phones were first used for verbal communication, they have evolved into smart devices that allow users to seamlessly text, access the Internet, watch television, play games, listen to music, and a host of other activities (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). In a report by Gallup, smart phones (e.g., iPhones, Androids, etc.) were defined as cell phones with the capability to access the Internet and run applications; 62% of the survey respondents reported that they owned a smart phone, 37% of the youth respondents reported that they owned a smart phone, and one in four reported that they used their phone to go online most of the time (Madden, Lenhart, Duggan, Cortesi, & Gasser 2013). Subsequently, other mobile devices such as tablets and electronic books were introduced and these devices are now often used by students in secondary school, as well as in higher education to access textbooks and other instructional materials (Hu, 2011; Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2011).

When using mobile devices such as phones and tablets, users frequently shift between different activities – for instance, reading their textbook and text messaging on their phone, or reading on an electronic screen and shifting between different applications (Tran, Carrillo, & Subrahmanyam, 2013). Although referred to as multitasking, in actuality, the user is rapidly switching between different activities on one device or on multiple devices/media (Kirschner & Karpinski, 2010; Subrahmanyamet al., 2013). Recent data suggest that college students multitask with three (Ophir, Nass, & Wagner, 2009) or even four devices simultaneously (Tran et al., 2013), often while reading. Mobile phones afford users the opportunity to multitask at any time and place. In fact, in Tindell and Bohlander’s (2012) study, 92% of students reported using their mobile phones during class. Not only do students use mobile phones and other devices in the classroom, they also do so when engaged in out of school learning tasks (Tran et al., 2013). Thus, it is important to consider the impact of such multitasking on learning and academic performance (Levine, Waite, & Bowman, 2012; Tran et al., 2013; Subrahmanyam et al., 2013).

The first studies investigating the effects of multitasking on learning were conducted by Dr. Helene Hembrooke and Dr. Geri Gay (Hembrooke & Gay, 2003) from the Human-Computer Interaction Group at Cornell University and Dr. Carrie Fried (Fried, 2008) at Winona State University. Subsequent studies were conducted by Dr. Kaveri Subrahmanyam and colleagues at the Children’s Digital Media Center @ Los Angeles (California State University, Los Angeles/University of California, Los Angeles) (Subrahmanyam et al., 2013; Tran et al., 2013). At the time of writing this chapter, only a few studies had been conducted on multitasking with mobile phones; leading researchers on this topic include Dr. Larry Rosen and colleagues (Rosen, Lim, Carrier, & Cheever, 2011) at California State University, Dominguez Hills and Dr. Amanda Gingerich and Dr. Tara Lineweaver (Gingerich & Lineweaver, 2014) at Butler University. As research on the effect of mobile phones on learning is limited, we draw from relevant research on multitasking using laptops, tablets, and other digital devices.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Multitasking: The act of rapidly switching between different activities on one device or on multiple devices/media.

Cognitive Load: The demand on a learner’s working memory.

Cognitive Control: The ability to attend to specific stimuli while simultaneously ignoring irrelevant stimuli.

Working Memory: A limited capacity system that holds information while it is being processed; this constrains a learner’s ability to process other new information at the same time.

Efficiency: The total time that it takes to complete the task, longer time to complete the task indicates loss of efficiency.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: