Multi-Tasking and Working Memory
The Google effect, while problematic for transfer, is not the only cause for technological concern. Another negative by-product of technology on learning and transfer is distraction. While many people may claim that technology assists with multi-tasking, and they may even feel more productive because of it, neuroscientists argue that the ability to multi-task does not actually exist. Studies have found that what really happens when students multi-task is their "attention is split between two competing tasks" which "lessens the quality of work performed on both" (Schwartz np). William Klemm, a professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, says this is concerning because “we live in a generation where students are doing more and more of this, so they’re messing up their ability to memorize" (Klemm as cited in Schwartz np). Multi-tasking acts as a distraction or interference with learning and memory formation. Similarly, technology can also interfere with opportunities for strengthening synaptic connections by distracting the learner from practicing retrieval. Take for example a young girl attending a school event. As she enters the room a teacher is standing by and asking students to complete a trivia question based upon a subject the class had been studying. Once the answer was completed, students entered their slip into a drawing for a prize to be given later that night. Upon reading the trivia question, the young girl immediately reaches for her phone and looks up the answer. To the passive observer there might not be a problem since the girl had found the correct answer. However, to the teacher trying to strengthen memory connections and improve potential for future transfer, this becomes a missed opportunity for practiced retrieval of knowledge. Practiced retrieval has the benefits of strengthening memory and the connections that can assist with later recall or accessibility of that memory. Finding an answer on the internet may help the girl to strengthen her memory of the access cues (as discussed in the "Google Effect") or process knowledge (of how to find something), but it does not necessarily reinforce the content memory or improve the odds of making use of that content in the future. Klemm credits the Internet for encouraging laziness. He asserts that “'when students rely on the Internet for knowledge, they are programming themselves to look for information on the Internet and not in their heads.' When asked to recall the information they just looked up, they don't remember it as well. Instead, they remember how to find the same information again on the Internet" (Klemm as cited in Schwartz np). Learning cannot be expanded into more complex conceptualizations without bringing information into working memory. Klemm argues that the more content knowledge a person has, the greater their odds of drawing conclusions (Klemm as cited in Schwartz np). Thinking is key to the complex cognitive processes involved in conclusion-making and thinking happens in working memory (Klemm as cited in Schwartz np). Technological distractions and multi-tasking prevent students from engaging working memory. The implications of multi-tasking on transfer are disconcerting. Technology, often through multi-tasking, distracts and interferes with practiced retrieval and extended engagement with information which are the processes for strengthening the neural pathways that transfer relies on. Without using the neural pathways built in long-term memory, memory diminishes over time (Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel 167).