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Report: College Students Say Devices in Class Interfere with Learning, are Minor Distractions

Most college students admit that their use of smartphones, tablets, and laptops can interfere with learning, but very few consider it more than a minor distraction, according to a new report from Barney McCoy, an associate professor of broadcasting at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).

More than 80 percent of students surveyed by McCoy said that their use of digital devices can interfere with their learning, but fewer than five percent said it was a big or very big distraction when they or their classmates used them. Only 17 percent of students surveyed said that using digital devices in class was not a distraction.

"I don't think students necessarily think it's problematic," McCoy said in a prepared statement. "They think it's part of their lives."

McCoy surveyed 777 students from UNL the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Morningside College, the University of North Carolina, the University of Kansas, and the University of Mississippi for the study.

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • Students reported using their devices in class an average of 11 times per day;
  • Thirty-five percent of students reported using their devices in class one to three times per day, 27 percent reported using them four to 10 times each day, 16 percent told researchers they used them 16 to 30 times per day, and less than eight percent of responding students said they never used their device during class time;
  • Eighty-six percent of surveyed students said they text during class, 68 percent reported checking their email, 66 percent said they use social networks during class, 38 percent said they use their devices for social networking, 38 percent reported surfing the Web, and eight percent said they play games on their devices during class;
  • Seventy-nine percent said they use their devices to check the time during class;
  • The most commonly cited advantages of using devices during class were staying connected, fighting boredom, and doing related classwork at 70, 55, and 49 percent, respectively;
  • The most commonly cited disadvantages were not paying attention, missing instruction, and getting called out by the teacher at 90, 80, and 32 percent, respectively; and
  • More than half the students who responded said they were a little distracted when other students used devices in class, but only about 46 percent said they were a little distracted by their own use of digital devices.

Most students, 91 percent, told McCoy that they do not support a ban on devices in the classroom. Instead, at a clip of 72 percent, they said they prefer that the instructor speak to offending students and 65 percent said they preferred warnings for first offenses with penalties following later infractions.

To read the full report, visit

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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