College students ‘constantly’ on phones during class, study finds

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa — New research warns that smartphones are preventing the average college student from lending his or her full attention during lectures.

Researchers at Stellenbosch University in South Africa shared the results of their recent inquiries, which among other things, show the consequences of implementing a “blending learning” approach into a college class’ curriculum.

Student texting in class
A new study finds that college students are “constantly” on their smartphones during class, causing many to suffer from a diminished concentration.

Blending learning, a term to describe when a teacher embeds various technology, such as videos, podcasts, and even social media posts, into instruction, has a downside, according to the researchers. That is, such a teaching strategy has normalized the use of distracting devices during lectures, resulting in a diminished learning experience.

“Studies by ourselves and researchers across the world show that students constantly use their phones when they are in class,” says lead researcher Daniel le Roux in a university news release.

“But here’s the kicker,” he adds. “If you think they are following the lecture slides or engaging in debates about the topic you are mistaken. In fact, this is hardly ever the case. When students use their phones during lectures they do it to communicate with friends, engage in social networks, watch YouTube videos or just browse around the web to follow their interests.”

Le Roux argues that this form of multitasking is counterproductive for a few reasons.

First, previous studies have shown “that media use during lectures is associated with lower academic performance,” explains le Roux.

Furthermore, electronic devices are believed to “harm students’ ability to concentrate on any particular thing for an extended period of time.” Once a student loses his or her concentration during a lecture, the immediate thought turns to mobile devices, keeping students from returning their attention to the subject matter.

“The moment the lecture fails to engage or becomes difficult to follow, the phones come out,” le Roux elaborates.

Due to these and similar findings, a number of universities worldwide have implemented policies barring smartphone use in lecture halls, hoping that such measures will help foster increased engagement, attentiveness, and critical thinking skills among students.

“No one can deny that mobile computing devices make our lives easier and more fun in a myriad of ways. But, in the face of all the connectedness and entertainment they offer, we should be mindful of the costs,” the researchers conclude.

Considering how the average millennial spends countless hours on their phone a day, perhaps redefining that relationship wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

The full study is published in the December 2017 edition of the journal Computers in Human Behavior.


  1. They go into debt for 20 years to take classes where they sit and text or talk on their phones all day.

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