Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics


Search This Site

Journal Club

The impact of mobile phone usage on student learning. Kuznekoff JH, Titsworth S. Communication Educ 2013; 62(3):233-252.

Reviewed by Gary Beck Dallaghan

Tags: learning outcomes, multi-tasking, digital distraction

What was the study question?
What is the impact of mobile phone usage during class lecture on student learning?

How was the study done?
Information processing theory suggests attention, working memory, short-term memory, long-term memory and metacognition are key resources for learning new material.  Distractions that affect any one of these resources may impact learning; therefore, divided attention from texting or social media may interfere with learning.  The authors set up an experiment with students assigned to one of three groups during a 12-minute lecture: strictly note-taking, low-distraction group, and high-distraction group.  The low-distraction group received a simulated text/post every 60 seconds and the high-distraction group received a simulated text/post every 30 seconds. The experimental groups were not required to respond to the text/post, but some of them did.

What were the results?
At the conclusion of the lecture, participants were given 3 minutes to review then take a free-recall test.  After 5 minutes, this test was put aside and a 16-item multiple choice examination was taken.  For both exams, the students’ scores diminished as the frequency of texting/posting increased.  Also, for the free recall exam, students in the control group (note-taking) recorded a statistically significant greater number of details than the experimental groups.

What are the implications of these findings?
This study provides evidence that digital distractions can interfere with processing information which could lead to poor performance on clerkship examinations.  For clinical clerkships, this can pose a problem if students are distracted on rounds potentially missing vital information being discussed about their patients.  Do these results mean that use of social media in education shouldn’t be used?  Not at all.  However, deliberate inclusion of social media focused on clearly articulated educational objectives will facilitate learning as opposed to random use in learning environments.

Editor’s note: This is an interesting and highly relevant study. In my small group teaching sessions I rarely see overt mobile phone usage probably because it is a small group setting and students are aware of my presence. It still happens though. In larger settings like grand rounds, audience member’  focus on mobile phones is rampant, I am guilty too, and makes me wonder why some people bother attending at all.

This paper is also a nice example of relevant literature from a journal not related to medicine. (RR)

Return to Journal Club