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Helping Students Resist Task-Switching and Technology Distractions

It is no secret that many students love to have technology devices present and active while studying. They often argue that the presence of technology makes homework more tolerable and may even help them study better. They might also argue that their generation is better able to handle multitasking than their parents’ generation because they have grown up with technology and know how to handle it.

Certainly, today’s students have been exposed to technology at an earlier age than most adults. It is a more integrated part of their lives. But, does the presence of technology that is not a study tool or related to learning improve their ability to concentrate, remain on task, and study better? Recent research calls the assertion into question.

A study published in Computers in Human Behavior focused on the behaviors of more than 250 middle school, high school, and university students to understand their attention behaviors while studying, especially when technology devices were present and active. Researchers found that student participants studying with present and active technology averaged only six minutes of focused study before task switching to social media, texting, and other technology associated activities that were unrelated to their academic study task. Not surprisingly, students who saw themselves as skilled task-switchers had more active technology present and switched tasks even more often than other study participants.

Frequent task switching has been shown in numerous research studies to reduce productivity, increase error frequency, and lead to more time spent in off-task behaviors. Consequently, it is not easy to make the argument that frequent task switching increases study effectiveness. The bottom line is that the longer students can remain focused and engaged during study sessions, the more likely they are to absorb and retain what they are studying.

An obvious strategy for students to counter the tendency for technology-related task switching is to limit or eliminate the presence of and immediate access to technology devices and applications not related to study. Reducing the temptation to and ease of engaging in task switching can help.

The researchers also recommended that students schedule periodic technology breaks to engage in social media, texting, etc. Committing to focus for a specific length of time followed by a rewarding break can help build attention span and focusing discipline.

Further, the researchers noted that students who regularly used conscious study strategies were more likely to remain on task for longer periods of time. By focusing on what and how they were studying, students were able to resist the temptation to become distracted by other activities. Obviously, we can help by introducing and having students practice specific strategies while studying outside of the classroom.

At a more general level, the researchers noted that students who used metacognitive strategies to resist interruptions and becoming distracted were more successful at remaining focused for longer periods of time. Here too, we can help by introducing and having students practice executive functioning activities such as self-discipline, focus, concentration, and delayed gratification.

What advice do you give your students about technology when studying outside of the classroom? What have you found to be successful in reducing the amount of task-switching students do while studying?

Source:

Rosen, L. D., Carrier, L. M., & Cheever, N. A. (2013, May). Facebook and texting made me do it: Media-induced task-switching while studying. Computers in Human Behavior, (29)3, 948-958.

Thought for the Week

While we attend to the needs of students as they return to in-person learning, we also need to provide support for adults.

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