According to Ofcom’s Communications Market Report in 2018, people in the UK now check their smartphones, on average, every 12 minutes of the waking day. And a significant 29% say they feel lost without the internet. How does your own usage compare, I wonder. Do you feel lost too?
In an online world which is connected 24/7, one that offers unlimited potential to learn and share, and is free of geographical boundaries, it’s perhaps no surprise that research has shown that online students’ multitasking behaviour is significantly greater than that of their face-to-face, more traditional classroom-learning style peers.
Yet as exciting as being constantly connected to the world may be, our increasingly digitally- lived lives are making us more distant, drained and distracted than ever – according to research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, at least. One example showed that during a meal with friends, even minor phone use could make the diners feel distracted and reduce their enjoyment of the experience.
So, there’s certainly good reason to believe that online distractions could quite possibly have the same negative outcomes for online study. In fact, there’s a considerable body of research demonstrating the negative impact of multitasking on study, pointing towards significantly reduced learning. Research from Pew Research Centre shows that in the US, 8% of teens say they often lose focus in school due to their own cellphones. When probed about their online habits, roughly nine-in-ten teens said that spending too much time online is a problem facing people their age, with 60% going as far as saying it was a major one.
Given the statistics, if you’re pursuing online study, it’s imperative that you take time to consider how you can avoid multitasking distracting you from your studies. The key is to learn good practice from the outset, particularly around self-regulation of your own behaviour. This includes choosing to study in quiet public areas including libraries, where the use of mobile phones for calls and other devices may not be permitted.
When it comes to digital support to beat the study distractions, there are some excellent apps to try. Flat Tomato helps you to break up tasks into timed blocks, allowing you to feel a sense of urgency and the completion of each task on your ‘to do’ list. The Noisli app plays white noise to suit the mood of whatever you’re looking to achieve. And if you simply can’t resist the urge to check your favourite social media app, give Freedom a try. It disables specific websites and apps for a self-defined period of time, preventing you from straying into autopilot newsfeed scrolling territory.
Multitasking and distractions to online study are not going to go away. But by being able to recognise which multitasking habits are helpful and which are a hindrance to your learning, and even trying a few helpful tools to support new positive behaviours, you’ll be on track to overcome the urge to multitask and stay focused on the study at hand.
Vicky Chilton is