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Learning from Students – Context-Switching

Learning is an ongoing process for everyone and the source can be anything or anyone. No matter who you are or what job you are doing, we all can learn from students’ habits and behaviour. In some cases, it can improve mental agility, in some efficiency and some times even creativity.

Students are stereotypically seen as having bad or no organisational skills, no work discipline and worst of all doing things at the last-minute. What most don’t realise is that students actually are able to dynamically organise their tasks instantly while achieving their end goals for each task satisfactorily. There are a few things students are good at without them or anyone else realising: Fast context switching, high intensity productivity, and on-the-fly scheduling.

Context switching

‘Multi-tasking’ is fast context switching. No one can really multi-task, but people can switch tasks very fast appearing to multi-task. Students do this well. Picture a scene in a group study area filled with students some know each other and some don’t. Now every one is working on something different and some actually not working and are procrastinating on Facebook or YouTube (as usual). One student has a question regarding his work, he goes and asks a fellow student who is working on another subject; this student has to be able to understand what is being asked quickly in order to answer the question. Some times people just ask, “hey, how did you do task 5 to calculate….?”. This question doesn’t mention a context. There is no warning beforehand; no “Can I ask you a question regarding ….. subject?”. It mentions in 2-3 words the question and its questions number but gives no direct clue regarding the subject.

One has to extract all the relevant information from these keywords, think about any background and possibly extrapolate the details of the question from memory or using common assumptions. From 3 keywords, extracting all this information requires a sharp and agile mind. Now the subjects of this question and the student’s work may have no connection at all yet, the student is able to quickly give an answer which is, in most cases, the required and relevant information. If the student isn’t able to answer it, he/she will quickly ask a question regarding an important assumption asking to verify certain information before proceeding to answer.

This ability to switch from one subject to another in an instant is important and requires a sharp & agile mind. This ability is very useful in the workplace where you might be handling a few different projects.


This is the first part of a small series of posts. More to come soon after I finish my exams. Keep checking and commenting!

Thank You



2 thoughts on “Learning from Students – Context-Switching

  1. I don’t know about work since I’m still a student to but I have this feeling it’s pretty much the same in engineering, or any quantative job (consulting, finance, ..) which is not too specific (otherwise you’re just isolated and working with same people on the same topic)

    Anyway, good point. I think you learn the ability.

    Distractions do make you a multitasker over time (FB, flash games, ..). It’s only at the expense of ability to read deep literature, … Short-term memory get’s improved, always with a trade-off of course of LT memory


  2. Pingback: To Gold-plate Or Not To Gold-plate? « techthoughts

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