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Study Confirms Text Messaging in Class Affects Cognitive Learning

April 09, 2012

A study conducted by an assistant professor of Broadcast Communications at Pittsburgh University at Bradford has confirmed that text messaging during lectures results in poor learning. The study, which will appear in the “Communication Education” journal, involved 190 students who attended lectures lasting 50 or 75 minutes while texting.

On average, the students sent 2.4 texts and viewed 2.6 while in class. While it is difficult to demonstrate that texting alone can affect cognitive learning, the study took a slightly different approach by use of Path Model Analysis which tries to describe relationships between variables.

In this study, Professor Wei tried to find a relationship between self-regulation, sustained attention and cognitive learning. It found that students who are self-regulated are more likely to have a focused attention in class and this in turn results in improved cognitive learning. Improved cognitive learning was shown through perceived amounts of learning and better grades. Students who were highly self-regulated were more likely to avoid texting during class. On the other hand, students who were more likely to text gave their instructors less attention diverting their focus from learning.

According to Wei, “College students may believe that they can multitask in class, but the real concern is not whether they are capable of such behavior but how it affects their attention to classroom instruction.”

Since texting diverts a student’s focus from paying attention to the instructor, Wei recommends that students limit texting in class. While her report does not suggest the university from banning texting in class as a more effective way of helping students maintain attention in comparison to other interactive instructional techniques, the study clearly shows that students can improve their cognitive learning if they take this step.

The University of Pittsburgh, however, does not have a policy that seeks to ban or entirely restrict students from having their mobile phones in class.

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