Social media: a distraction or a tool for learning?

Social Media, Technology & Education: Distracted Much?

Distracted much? Interruptions are the curse of this modern life we live. Day and night our phones, social media platforms, and other gadgets, buzz, ping, beep their way into our attention. This distracts us from whatever we are doing. It did become clear that these distractions hurt our productivity at work. I mean, pretty obvious, if you are completely honest with yourself how many times a day do you check your phone when it lights up or makes a sound ? Especially when you need to study for an exam or something and you have your phone next to your books. Let me tell you, not much studying is happening then, unless you put it on airplane-mode.

A study published in the Journal of Media Education last January 2016, also stated that using digital devices in classrooms for non-class reasons have its costs. Students were asked what the biggest disadvantages were and nearly 89 percent responded that “they don’t pay attention” and, therefore, miss instructions or other important information. The main reasons why students use their digital device is that they want to “stay connected” and “fight boredom”.

However, for many of us non-students our phone is our work. We literally cannot go to work without it. What if we don’t respond soon enough and the deal is off the table? That would be a shame, wouldn’t it?

Gloria Mark at the University of California has presented research that argues that standard office workers can only work for eleven minutes straight, before they get interrupted, most often by their phone. But what about multitasking? Isn’t that a thing?

Multitasking or Rapid Toggling?

The discussion starts with the neuroscientists. They say that there are very few people in the world who can actually multitask. Neuroscience researchers argue that what people call multitasking should actually be called “rapid toggling” between tasks. This means that the brain concentrates quickly on one topic and then switches to another.

This “switching” is not ‘free’; it takes time for the mind to get deeply involved with a single topic, therefore, transitioning between tasks can decrease productivity and mental performance. You take more time to complete tasks, you are less focussed and you are more likely to make mistakes.

Our brain can do amazing things like designing rockets that fly to the moon and make brownies, but it can only think about one thing at a time. So, multitasking is, in fact, not a thing.

Social Media & Communication

Right, now we’ve gained some interesting insights about multitasking. Let’s touch on the influence of social media on education and learning.

All distraction and disruptions aside, mobile technology has changed everything. We live in a world where learning is connected and through this, the impact of social media on education is becoming a driving aspect. The way we deliver instructions is changing due to social media; the world is getting smaller.

Let’s have a look at video communication platforms, such as Skype. There is no longer a need for a faculty member or student to be in the same room: instructions can be given over great distances. I must add that this system has its downsides as the internet connection can be bad and messages can always be misunderstood, and I’m talking from experience here. What I do think would be pretty cool is a hologram as a teacher, I mean that would add some vibrancy to the learning process, but we’re getting off topic here.

Social media is such a dominant part of our modern society these days. Did you know that, on average, Millennials checks their phone more than 150 times a day?! 150 times. That’s crazy. That’s 120 times more than the average adult, who checks it only 30 times a day.

When people check their phone, it doesn’t always have to do with social media, of course, but nevertheless, just to give you an estimation: in 2016, users spent roughly 50 minutes per day on social media. This might not sound like that much, and you probably think that you spend way more time on social media than 50 minutes per day. However, when you compare it to a recent survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics it is actually a lot of time. The results of this survey show that people spend way less time on other leisure activities like sports or exercise (17 minutes), or reading (19 minutes). People spend about 1 hour eating and drinking per day and social media takes up almost the same amount?!

So, what are positive impacts of social media on learning and education? Some positive influences are that social media sites can increase student collaboration. It is very easy to communicate via these mediums. Conversely, social media platforms are full of unimportant and surreal stuff, however, this increases the student ability to ‘filter’ information and learn only to use the relevant sources. Furthermore, students have the ability to reach out to experts across different disciplines.

What about the negative impacts of social media on education? First of all, (shocker) it is very distracting. From personal experience, I know for a fact that when a class gets boring, first thing you do is check your phone and social media. During breaks, you’re less social. Nowadays, when you go out for dinner and look around, how many people are on the phone instead of having a real conversation? When people mainly communicate via technology, body language clues can be missed; it’s like having half a conversation.

Now, of course, we are talking about communicating, when we communicate via social media or WhatsApp or something else, we tend to make a lot of spelling mistakes or write words differently on purpose. Many of these messenger platforms have a grammar correct function, but students do not develop the same accuracy than when they actually write the word themselves.

 

 

Whether we like it or not, social media has a powerful impact on education and learning. It has its positive and negative influences, but if I go from personal experience, and then I primarily look at the distracting aspect, I would say mainly negative effects. The fact is, social media – and mobile technology – will continue to evolve and change the educational landscape.

 

 


This post is brought to you by one of AQ’s Undergraduates, Paula van Staalduinen. As part of our internship programs, undergraduates and classic interns are encouraged to take part in company culture. Paula’s primary project focuses on training programs and eLearning and how best to adapt this to industries under pressure.

 

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