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College Kids May Be Learning, Even When Checking Smartphones

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By HealthDay News

Social media use in college classrooms is generally frowned upon. But new research suggests it's possible to check posts and tweets -- and still absorb the lecture material.

University of Illinois-Chicago researchers found that social media distraction in the classroom interferes with visual learning, but not auditory learning.

The findings suggest "that visual distraction still allows students to acquire information delivered [verbally]," study author Jane Marone and colleagues reported. Marone is a professor of kinesiology and nutrition.

Nearly half of college students use social media for about two to five hours a day, according to background notes with the study.

Previous research suggested that social media use in the classroom was associated with lower grades, mainly because it keeps students from processing visual content presented during lectures.

But it wasn't clear how social media use in class affects the ability to take in verbal information.

So the researchers prepared a lesson for students in an undergraduate anatomy and physiology course. The lesson was presented as a slideshow with a variety of formats -- some were visual and some used voice-over narration.

The students were divided into two groups. One group listened to the lecture and took notes without any distractions. The second group was told to view their mobile devices and browse their personal Facebook pages during the presentation of certain slides.

While the students who viewed social media didn't see those slides, they did hear the verbal information presented with the slides, the study authors reported.

Both groups were quizzed after the lecture. Although their note-taking suffered, students who used social media during the lecture still took in the verbal material, according to the test results.

The report was published online recently in the journal Advances in Physiology Education.

Based on these findings, instructors may want to tweak their approach to teaching, the study authors suggested in a journal news release.

"When delivering a lecture, instructors should consider the use of spoken organizational cues [and] reinforcement of lecture content delivery through the simultaneous use of visual and aural modalities," Marone's team concluded.

More information

The National Education Association explains how some teachers use smartphones in the classroom.

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