Smartphones are a must-have for today's generation of young people. The desire to stay connected with friends and loved ones is understandable, but the obsession with constantly checking one's phone diminishes a student's attention span.
A research review on ScienceDirect found that smartphone addiction has a negative impact on student learning and academic performance. Greater phone use while studying increases the negative impact. The researchers believe we need teacher training, cognitive-behavioral interventions, and education around smartphone addiction to help students improve study habits and enhance learning.
To investigate the findings of the research further, we asked professors, teachers, researchers, and students to comment on this study. We also asked a group of people who disagree with findings or believe smartphone addiction is hype.
“Smartphone addiction deteriorates the cognitive process because it fundamentally disrupts learning,” says Precious Hardy, a PhD student in Educational Psychology at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She explains that there are three main components to learning: attention, encoding, and retrieval. “As information comes in through our senses, we decide whether to pay attention to it. Attentional focus on information finds itself in our short-term memory where we rehearse the information, elaborate on the ideas, and organize them into new or existing schemas,” which she describes as the encoding process. She says that students use the internet to find answers, which holds them back from properly absorbing the information.
Amanda Dexter, a middle school English teacher, talks about the negative impact of smartphone addiction on learning by referring to her own experiences. She says that “students are so distracted by their phones that they don't hear directions, don't pay attention to lessons, and don't seem to care.” She says that students who are constantly on their phones are performing badly academically and get lower grades.
Varda Meyers Epstein, editor at Kars4Kids Parenting, offers a similar perspective on this issue. She believes there are many problems that are often the cause of smartphone addiction, such as sleep deprivation. She goes on to explain that no matter what time of the day a young person gets a notification, they will check it due to the fear of missing out. “When kids don't get enough sleep, interrupted or otherwise poor sleep, they're groggy the next morning and fall asleep during class. Of course they're not going to do well in school if they're not awake enough to absorb their lessons,” she adds.
Sander Tamm, founder and CEO E-Student, says that many students use phones in a way that could be helpful, but it also negatively affects productivity. He says that by placing your phone in a different room while studying, one might boost productivity and creativity. However, he goes on to explain that “in situations where this isn’t possible, students may want to try deleting their social media apps during the day and reinstalling them once they’re done studying for the day.” He also notes that educating students on the negative impacts of smartphones on their education and learning won’t be that much of a help either, as we tend to check our phones a lot throughout the day. “Educational policies at institutions could be helpful to keep smartphones off classroom desks and try to reduce the issue during their in-classroom time,” he suggests.
Chris Drew, PhD, owner of the Helpful Professor, questions the “under-conceptualization of the concept of healthy use of smartphones” in the study. He says that it’s a bit difficult to understand the “youths' use of smartphones without the input of youths themselves.” He also touches upon the effective use of smartphones and how it might help students. “Youths will often use smartphones to develop important social connections, develop their identities, deepen social relationships, and even seek peer support when they're struggling academically,” he explains. He believes that young people learn better from their peers and it’s hypocritical for adults to tell youth how to behave around smartphones when most of them don't manage their own behavior well enough. He notes that he’d like “to see more input, collaboration, and consent from young people themselves in smartphone addiction, and where they see the line to truly be between productive and unproductive smartphone usage.”
While most experts agree that smartphone addiction might have a negative impact on the learning experience of youth, many also believe there are advantages that smartphones offer to students and educators.
Tina Arnoldi, MA is a marketing consultant and freelance writer in Charleston SC. Learn more about her and connect at TinaArnoldi.com