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The (negative) impact of phones on grades

3 min read
  • Phones & technology

We live in an age in which technology is becoming more and more dominant. A recent study has suggested that students check their phone on average every 8.6 minutes. We looked at the latest research to investigate what the impact of phones on grades was and its affect on classroom teaching.

What the latest study says

Many studies have sought to investigate the relationship between mobile phone usage and academic performance, but much of this research has relied on students themselves reporting their usage, which they often underestimate.

However, one recent study offers conclusive evidence. In this particular experiment, 43 students had their phone usage recorded in real time via an app for 2 weeks, to allow the researchers to determine whether student phone usage had an impact on academic performance as measured by where the students were ranked in their class (which, in itself, is far from an ideal measure).

The researchers discovered a negative relationship between mobile phone usage and students’ academic performance, such that every 100 minutes that a student spent using their phone a day lead to the student dropping 6.3 places in terms of their academic school ranking. This effect was doubled when the students used their phone whilst actually in class.

The research clearly shows that, despite having the potential to be an efficient learning tool, overall mobile phones have a negative impact on student grades, as they distract students from engaging in lessons.

Why do mobile phones cause a decline in students grades?

This research reinforces the findings from previous studies, which have suggested that mobile phones can have a negative impact on academic grades, as students overestimate their ability to multi-task. Furthermore, switching tasks takes time, effort and energy.

Therefore, teachers need to present students with compelling evidence which demonstrates that multi-tasking is a myth. It is not possible for them to fully engage with classroom teaching, their homework or revision when their phone is on standby next to them, as its mere presence is enough to distract them.

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

How can teachers limit students’ use of mobile phones in class?

One way in which teachers can limit students’ mobile phone use in class is to ban phones in school. France imposed a country wide ban that came into force in September 2018, whilst recent research in England has offered promising results. The researchers found that enforcing such a ban led to a significant increase in student grades, with this effect being even more pronounced amongst struggling students.

If teachers are looking for a different approach, they should look to encourage students to limit their notifications. Students can take control of their learning by changing the settings on their phone to determine what they are notified of and when.

Alternatively, students may choose to put their phone on airplane mode whilst in class, so that their notifications do not come through, hence removing the urge to reply to messages immediately.

Final thought

Recent research has given conclusive evidence showing the negative effects that mobile phone usage can have on students’ academic performance. This effect is obviously heightened when students use their smartphone in class – and similar results are found throughout the world.

If it has such a negative impact on students, then schools should seriously consider banning them. If not, teaching them strategies to manage their mobile phones would go some way towards helping.

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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