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The impact of TikTok on students' grades

The impact of TikTok on students’ grades

4 min read
  • Phones & technology
  • Study skills & exam prep

TikTok has over 1 billion users worldwide, and is particularly popular with teenagers and young adults. It is easy to understand why: the app allows users to upload short and engaging videos that users can comment on and share with their friends. The app is arguably designed for students to spend hours scrolling through it.

This begs the question: is TikTok impacting on students’ grades?

What the research says

One recent study gave 111 undergraduate students a survey about their use of TikTok, including the amount of time they spent on it and whether they use it in class or when doing their schoolwork.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results showed that more time spent on TikTok was correlated with being more distracted in class. As well as this, time on TikTok was associated with losing track of time instead of doing their work.

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

The 4 consequences of TikTok on grades

So, it’s plain to see that excessive TikTok use can potentially disadvantage students. But why is this particularly worrying for their learning? Let’s take a deeper dive into what these findings mean and the potential consequences…

1. TikTok increases screen time during learning

The TikTok algorithm is excellent at personalising the content they show making it hard for students to put their phone down – especially when it’s time to focus.

This makes it even more tempting for them to stay on TikTok during schoolwork and in lessons and convince themselves that they can pay attention to both. However, research has now proven time and time again that multi-tasking is a myth that simply leads to students being distracted and learning at a much slower pace, ultimately reducing their progress.

One study sheds a very interesting light on this. The researchers instructed a group of students to check their phones throughout a lecture, and another group to put their phones away. The researchers found that students in the ‘phones away’ group wrote down 62% more notes and achieved 1.5 grades higher than those who had their phones out.

Overall, attempting to multi-task with TikTok or other social media apps ends up being unproductive in the long run.

2. TikTok distorts the concept of time

As we can see from the results of the research, students can unintentionally spend more time on TikTok than they want to. Some researchers suggest that students enter a “flow state,” which is when they are completely focused on one task to the point where they lose track of time. They argue that it is difficult for students to come out of this state unless they are interrupted by the real world, such as someone telling them to turn it off.

Adolescent students may already have a distorted view of time and think that it moves slower than it actually does. This is a major cause of the Planning Fallacy, where students typically underestimate the time they need to complete a task. Entering a “flow state” from using TikTok can make it even harder for students to plan out their study time and complete their assignments on time.

3. TikTok encourages procrastination

The research shows that it’s easy for students to waste time on TikTok, which puts their schoolwork on the back burner. There are many reasons why students procrastinate instead of doing their work – one being to escape from the daily stress of school life.

Students who have poor self-regulation skills (i.e., find it harder to control their impulses) are among the most likely to procrastinate. It appears that this relationship goes both ways, as the more students procrastinate, the worse their self-regulation skills become.

Research has shown that excessive screen time (7+ hours a day) by young people was associated with lower levels of curiosity, self-control and emotional stability. However, asking questions and having self-control are essential strategies for learning. Without these, students can hold themselves back from getting higher grades.

4. TikTok reduces attention spans

As the videos on TikTok range between a couple of seconds and 10 minutes long, students get accustomed to paying attention for shorter periods of time and the feeling of reward that comes from this. However, students are expected to sustain their attention for much longer to secure their knowledge during lessons and independent study.

Therefore, consistently using TikTok can mean that students depend on it for instant satisfaction. From this, students may struggle with delaying gratification. As a result, they can find it difficult to concentrate on their schoolwork, forgetting that it will help them achieve their long-term academic goals. Even though it’s easier said than done, we have shared some practical ways for students to improve their focus when studying in this blog.

Final thoughts

While TikTok can be an enjoyable platform for students to unwind, it’s important to recognise the potential impact it can have on their academic performance. Due to the nature of the app, students can easily get distracted by it and find themselves wasting valuable time that they could be investing in their learning.

It’s not all bad news though: there are helpful strategies that students can use to strike a good balance between social media use and maintaining productive study habits. So, check out our Mobile Phone Management and Concentration Training workshops to help your students manage their devices (and other distractions) more effectively.


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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