Text messages can connect, but also distract. While past studies have shown that off-task texting interferes with information retention, the researchers in this study wanted to measure how texting during class affects both accumulation of knowledge and higher order processes like analysis and synthesis.

183 college students were broken into three groups. One group viewed an academic presentation without interruption by digital devices, while another viewed the same lecture but received intermittent texts from the researchers. The texts were unrelated to class material, and asked questions such as: "What is your favorite place to shop for clothing?" The third group did not view a presentation. Both presentation groups were encouraged to take notes to help them prepare for a test on the material. After the lecture, all students were assessed with 30 multiple choice and four essay questions. The multiple choice questions tested key concept recall, while the essay questions challenged students to employ analysis, application, synthesis, and evaluation.

While the non-texting students did significantly better than the texting group on multiple choice questions, the non-texting group received only slightly higher scores than the texting group on the open-ended essay questions. This suggests that higher order thinking processes may be less adversely affected by texting than factual recall. The only significant difference in score on the essay section was between the group that hadn’t heard the lecture at all and the non-texting group.

While these results affirm past research that texting in class diminishes factual learning, they suggest minimal impact of texting on the higher order thinking skills engaged in essay-writing. The non-texting students took higher-quality notes than the texters, but the test results between the two groups were fairly comparable in the essay section. The researchers suggest more detailed study of the impact of texting on higher order learning in order to uncover the reasons behind this perplexing result.

Waite, B., Lindberg, R., Ernst, B., Bowman, L., & Levine, L. (2018). Off-task multitasking, note-taking and lower- and higher-order classroom learning. Computers and Education, 120, 98-111.

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