We understand; you didn’t ask for a reality check. But we’re gonna give you one anyway! According to Reviewers.org, Americans check their smartphones an average of 144 times a day. It’s safe to assume that the rest of the world isn’t too far behind, either. After all, smartphones are a gateway to information; we usually need them for work or to stay in touch with our loved ones.
When used in moderation, smartphones are an excellent tool for learning, communication, and connection. But excessive smartphone use can do more harm than good. And although it can do damage to our emotional and physical health, today we’re going to focus on how it affects our academic performance.
That being said, could smartphones be the reason you’ve failed your test or can’t concentrate at work? Let’s examine some research papers before we start pointing fingers.
Effects of Smartphones on Learning and Memory
Learning can be very challenging when students are filled with distractions. Although a wandering mind can find distractions everywhere, frequent smartphone use during study sessions can considerably lower students’ chances of obtaining knowledge efficiently.
Smartphones offer a direct path to temporary dopamine boosts. As a result, we tend to check our phones on a regular basis, which could affect retention and academic performance.
A meta-analysis of smartphone addiction and academic performance that included 44 studies and a sample size of 147,943 college students from 16 countries concluded that “all six moderator variables (source, continent, purpose of use, GPA predictors, and smartphone constructs) produced statistically significant effects of smartphone addiction on learning, excluding grade level. For instance, all the constructs measuring the purpose of use as a moderator variable produced negative weighted mean effects on learning except entertainment. These results reveal that sending text messages, talking and chatting, multitasking in class, and texting and socializing negatively affect students’ academic performance.”
Photo illustration: Freepik
Although indulging in distractions and multitasking apparently affect students’ ability to learn and comprehend study materials, what about using smartphones as a studying tool that could help us take notes faster?
The research titled Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking compared the academic performance of those taking notes on paper versus laptop and found that participants who took comprehensive paper notes performed significantly better than participants who used their laptop as a note-taking tool.
In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.
Source: Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking
Although this study shows a correlation between poor academic performance and digital note-taking by using a laptop, it’s safe to assume that a similar conclusion would be drawn if the research were applied to smartphones. That would be due to the parallel nature of these devices.
The Impact of Smartphones on Comprehension and Well-Being
Studying itself can cause anxiety. The pressure to retain information at the same rate as your peers and the inability to develop a habit and find the right learning strategy are triggers for many students. Achieving mindfulness and focusing on the study is not an easy task either. Inevitably, access to smartphones doesn’t make it any easier.
The research titled The Impact of Smartphone Use on Course Comprehension and Psychological Well-Being in the College Classroom by Melissa Huey and David Giguere reported interesting findings.
According to this research paper, “students who physically removed their smartphones from them throughout the duration of the class had significantly higher levels of comprehension and mindfulness in the course. In addition to that, students without their smartphones had significantly lower levels of anxiety. The data provides preliminary evidence that limiting cell phone use creates a more positive psychological state for students, and in turn, may yield more positive learning outcomes.”
Another study titled The Relationship Between Smartphone Use and Academic Performance: A Case of Students in a Malaysian Tertiary Institution reported the following:
…despite using smartphone for school-related learning purposes, the results indicate there is a significant but weak inverse correlation between smartphone usage for eight of the school-related activities assessed in the study and academic CGPA of this sample of tertiary students. This means the more these students utilized their smartphones for the learning activities, the lower their CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average).
Source: The Relationship Between Smartphone Use and Academic Performance: A Case of Students in a Malaysian Tertiary Institution
Cutting the Problem at the Root
Based on the studies mentioned in this article, it’s safe to conclude that there’s a direct connection between continual smartphone use and poor academic performance. This conclusion begs the question: how to reduce the negative effect of smartphones to achieve optimal academic results?
The answer itself is simple – we need to cut the problem at the root.
However, that’s easier said than done.
Photo illustration: Freepik
If you think excessive smartphone use is affecting your progress, here are some solutions to improve your learning retention.
- Keep the phone away: If you keep your phone within reach, you are making room for distractions. Instead of keeping your phone on the desk, try placing it in a drawer or leaving it in the living room. You know what they say – out of sight, out of mind.
- Use a website blocker: Website and app blocking software is an excellent tool for minimizing distractions. By locking access to social media apps, for example, you won’t be tempted to take frequent breaks and scroll through engaging content. If that seems like a hassle, turning off Wi-Fi on your phone could be an alternative solution. That way, you won’t hear any distracting notifications.
- Use your phone during breaks: The mind can be stubborn, so we often need to make a pact with it in order to get things done. If you want to spend time on social media, conditioning yourself to do so only during study breaks can be a productive approach to studying. By utilizing this approach, you’re not restricting smartphone use; you’re simply delaying it. In other words, you’re restoring the effort-reward balance and making more room for a positive learning experience.
As you can see, smartphones are both a blessing and a curse. They affect our learning process and often cause anxiety, but they’re also essential in everyday communication.
Luckily, nothing is unfixable.
Proper adjustments to your learning approach make it possible to reap the benefits of smartphones and perform well academically. But whether you’re ready for such changes is entirely up to you.