PhotoSmart phones have made staying connected and accessing information easier than ever before, but are they causing too many distractions for people going through college? A new study conducted by researchers at Rice University and the U.S. Air Force has found that smart phone users believe that the devices may be detrimental to the learning process.

Impact on education

The goal of the study was to determine how much smart phones impacted the educational process. It took place over a year (from 2010 to 2011) and gathered results from 24 participants who had never had a smartphone before.

“Smartphone technology is penetrating world markets and becoming abundant in most college settings,” said Phillip Kortum, who co-authored the study and is an assistant professor of psychology at Rice. “We were interested to see how students with no prior experience using smartphones thought they impacted their education.”

Before the study began, participants were asked a series of questions about how they thought smartphones would affect their academics. They were then given their phones and their activity was observed for a year. At the end of the study, the same set of questions were asked to the students again.

Poll results

The answers were rated on a score of 1-5, with one expressing strong agreement and five expressing strong disagreement. The questions and average answers of the questions at the beginning and end of the study are shown below:

  • My iPhone will help/helped me get better grades - In 2010 the average answer was 3.71; in 2011 the average answer was 1.54.
  • My iPhone will distract/distracted me from school-related tasks - In 2010 the average answer was 1.91; in 2011 the average answer was 4.03.
  • The iPhone will help/helped me do well on academic tests - In 2010 the average answer was 3.88; in 2011 the average answer was 1.68.
  • The iPhone will help/helped me do well with my homework - In 2010 the average answer was 3.14; in 2011 the average answer was 1.49.

The results of the poll clearly show that the new smartphone users did not benefit as much from the devices as they originally thought they would. Students found themselves much more distracted than they thought they would be, and the smartphones did not help with their studies in most cases.

Smartphones can be useful

The researchers want to clarify that their study was not conducted to show that smartphones are bad for students to have. In fact, they think that they can be very useful in classroom settings if used with proper guidance.

"Previous studies have provided ample evidence that when smartphones are used with specific learning objects in mind, they can significantly enhance the learning experience," Kortum said. "However, our research clearly demonstrates that simply providing access to a smartphone, without specific directed learning activities, may actually be detrimental to the overall learning process."

The full study has been published in the British Journal of Education Technology.

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