Limiting outside distractions may help students achieve greater academic success, study finds

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The researchers say students should find ways to focus when doing schoolwork

While every student has a different learning style, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is exploring the negative effects of students who engage in “distracted learning.” 

The researchers say many students tend to be doing several different things while engaging with schoolwork, and this may have a negative impact on academic outcomes. Instead of multitasking, the team says students should work to maintain better focus if they want to increase their chances of academic success. 

“Listening to a lecture, texting, online shopping, and socializing on Facebook are all complex, very demanding tasks that draw on the same region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex,” said researcher Shelly J. Schmidt. “Under most conditions, the brain can’t carry out two complex tasks simultaneously. But if students do not believe their learning is being hampered by this behavior, they have no incentive or motivation to change it, and the problem just continues.” 

Distractions and electronics

The researchers analyzed several recent studies that looked at the ways that distracted learning can be detrimental to academic success. They learned that multitasking while trying to do schoolwork can make it harder for students to comprehend what they’re learning while also negatively affecting their performance on exams and assignments. To help avoid this, Schmidt and her team are encouraging parents, students, and teachers to prioritize maintaining a stronger focus to help kids reach their highest potential. 

“Armed with an internal locus of control, students are able to recognize and control factors that impede their success, such as distractions while they’re trying to learn,” said Schmidt. 

Because electronics are one of the biggest sources of distraction, the researchers recommend several strategies for students who may be distracted by their phones while doing schoolwork. While some people may work better with a phone or gaming system totally out of sight while working, others may prefer to schedule in times throughout the day to periodically check social media or take a quick break with a show or video. 

Schmidt explained that it’s “virtually impossible to make students limit all distractions;” however, building in time throughout the school day to take breaks, stand up, and move can be beneficial for both students and teachers to get more out of their designated work time. 

“Exercise has been shown to be of enormous benefit to both cognitive functioning and well-being, including mental health,” said Schmidt. “Teachers could incorporate movement into classroom activities by asking students to pair up and go on a brief walk indoors or outdoors to discuss a concept from the day’s lesson.” 

Maintaining better focus

Despite all of the distractions vying for students’ attention, the researchers hope that these findings highlight the importance of maintaining a strong focus, as doing so can be beneficial both inside and outside the classroom. 

“In a world where distractions abound, we have a golden opportunity to help our students and ourselves learn how to control our actions and focus on what really matters,” Schmidt said. “Learning how to become less distractible is an essential and timeless skill for success in education, as well as many other facets of life.” 

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