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The consequences of electronics in class

The consequences of electronics in class

3 min read
  • Phones & technology

We now live in a world in which there are more electronic devices than people. It sometimes feels as if electronics are taking over everyone’s lives. But is this tech revolution good for schools? Does it actually lead to more learning in our classrooms? What could be the consequences of electronics in class?

Smart phones aren’t so smart

A recent study has looked at the effects of using electronics (phones and laptops) in class. To test this, researchers divided students into two groups. Both groups received the same classes, except that in half the classes, electronics were permitted and in the other half they were not.

The researchers found that students who had been in a class where electronic devices were allowed performed 5% worse in their exams. This is the equivalent of a half a letter grade in conventional scoring systems. Interestingly, this effect was also seen for students who did not use electronics in classes in which they were permitted to do so. This suggests that there is a ripple effect occurring, with other people using electronics still providing a distraction.

Why do electronics have negative effects?

One reason why electronics had such negative effects is because of a misconception amongst students that they are able to effectively multi-task (i.e. using electronics whilst still paying attention in class). However, multi-tasking is a myth and does hinder the chances of retaining information in our long term memory.

Another reason why those allowed to use electronics did worse is based on how they used them. Previous research has suggested that students who take notes on their laptop are more likely to do so verbatim, compared to those who do it by pen and paper. Taking notes down word for word leads to shallower learning, as students do not process the material as deeply.

Don’t let your students’ phone get in the way of their learning and well-being – help them develop key phone management skills.

4 ways students can limit the use of electronics in class

This study suggests that schools may be well advised to ban electronics in class. If that is not possible or realistic, letting students know the following four tips may help:

  1. Limit notifications – Students should change the settings on their electronics to determine what they are notified of and when.
  2. Turn it off – When in class students should turn electronics off so they are not distracted by any notifications. If they can’t manage to turn the electronics off, they should put them in airplane mode or put them in their bag rather than having them out next to them.
  3. Resist the urge to reply – As soon as a message comes through, students have an urge to reply. But try to encourage the mindset that a message often does not need replying to immediately or even at all.
  4. Leave electronics at home or with someone they trust – This means students will not have electronics with them, so they cannot be distracted.

Final thoughts

Students need to know that using electronics in class has negative effects. The difference of half a grade letter can make a big difference in their lives. With this in mind, helping students realise that a couple of hours without electronics now is definitely worth the benefit of positive rewards that they will later receive.

Find more strategies and resources on our guide to mobile phone management for students.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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