poster session

nsf guidelines

background paper
participant memos
final report



project description | background paper | host institutions

Project Description

Children are growing up in a rapidly changing, information-rich age in which communication technology has become more affordable, accessible, and available than ever before. Today, American children ages 8 to 18 spend approximately the same amount of time with media per day as they did before the recent explosion of digital tools (around 6.5 hours), but have increased the amount of media content they consume by about two hours (Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005). One third of children say they can absorb some other medium while watching TV, listening to music, using the computer, or reading. The phenomenon of “media multitasking” — and its inherent mental habits of dividing attention, switching attention, and keeping multiple trains of thought in working memory — have significant implications for the way young people and adults think, learn, socialize, and understand the world.

Scholars know a great deal about the mechanisms of human development that support children’s and adults’ acquisition of new knowledge and skills. As the media that surrounds children becomes more ubiquitous, and children’s media activity continues to grow in terms of exposure and complexity, it is important to reexamine and reframe existing theories and practices in the realms of education and human development. Our intention is to spur research on media multitasking in youth and adults by defining key questions for interdisciplinary research and stimulating the formation of a community where more coordinated research efforts and future collaborations can take place.

The purpose of the first NSF-sponsored workshop on media multitasking in youth is to:

  • create a forum for interdisciplinary exploration of available research and agenda setting for future inquiry;
  • understand the theoretical and experimental base from which to launch cutting-edge basic and applied research on media multitasking; and
  • increase public awareness and drive policymaker interest in the implications of media multitasking for children’s learning and development.




Background Paper

A background paper on the Media Multitasking project is available for download in PDF format. This document:

  • briefly describes the current state of knowledge on media multitasking as it relates to cognitive development and learning in children;
  • defines questions and topics for interdisciplinary discussion and research coordination, focusing on the development of new methods, models, and theories for studying media multitasking effects on learning and development; and
  • is intended to catalyze discussion at the July 15 workshop.

We encourage seminar participants to read this paper prior to the event.

PDF of the background paper




Host Institutions

The Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center
Researchers at the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center are exploring how people learn in a variety of different settings. LIFE, founded in the fall of 2004, is devoted to uncovering how humans learn in and out of school, from birth to adulthood, with an emphasis on the social foundations of learning. The center’s goal is to integrate and transform the science of learning in ways that change and improve education, training and self-directed learning. LIFE, a National Science Foundation-supported Science of Learning Center, represents a collaboration between the University of Washington in Seattle and Stanford University and SRI International, Inc., both in the San Francisco area. Other institutions across the country also participate.


Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab
Stanford University's CHIMe Lab focuses on uncovering fundamental relationships between humans and interactive media. We are interested both in advancing the overall understanding of human psychology and in exploring the practical implications of our discoveries. CHIMe findings have informed software application design in a variety of contexts, including personal computing, mobile technologies, collaborative work environments, education, e-commerce, and driving. Currently CHIMe has four areas of concentration: interfaces for automobiles, embodied agents, mobile systems, and technologies for developing-world contexts.


The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop is a nonprofit research and production institute named after the creator of Sesame Street. Housed at Sesame Workshop in New York City, the Cooney Center's mission is to foster innovation in children’s learning through digital media. The Center supports action research, encourages partnerships to connect child development experts and educators with interactive media and technology leaders, and mobilizes public and private investment in promising and proven new media technologies for children. An important focus of the Center is to leverage the potential of interactive media to promote 21 century literacies so that students can compete and cooperate in our connected world.