Distracted driving? Now it's distracted learning

Monday, July 30, 2018

There’s a general consensus that texting while driving is dangerous, but how about learning?

Kids might not be in the physical danger caused by distracted driving, but their education may be in danger.

Teachers face a dilemma; their students need “screens” to function in the modern world, but those cell phones and even school-issued computers can be a big distraction to young people already prone to daydreaming.

Claims of “multi-tasking” aside, scientists already know that when your attention is divided between two tasks, you’ll have trouble remembering anything about those tasks.

According to studies at Stanford University and Rutgers University, smartphones reduce the ability to think to a person’s full potential, and intense multi-tasking decreases the efficiency of completing a task.

Anyone who spends much time on Facebook can vouch for the lack of in-depth thought.

Previous studies have concerned poor performance on exams, but in a study published by the journal Educational Psychology, 118 college students were divided into two groups, each enrolled in the same course, taught the same material by the same instructor, in the same classroom, at about the same time of day.

The variable was that one group was allowed to have laptops and cell phones open for non-classroom purposes, and the other group wasn’t.

The group using devices scored about half a letter grade lower in exams, and even students who didn’t have screens open scored lower, likely from distraction from other students’ phones and laptops.

In the last 10 years, the percentage of high schools with cellphone bans dropped from 80 percent to only 35 percent.

Before adults decry “kids these days,” they should take a look and the amount of time they and their friends spend on their phone.

In some ways, electronic media is like any media, carrying messages about every subject known to man. Today’s students, however, are more likely to be spending time on Snapchat than doodling in the margins of their notebooks.

Those doodles were limited by our own imaginations, but online distractions are limitless.

As we head into a new school year, educators, parents and students themselves need to re-examine attitudes toward screens and set priorities accordingly.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: