More than 10 years after the rise of social media’s popularity, educators and researchers still aren’t sure how to define the relationship between social media use and academic performance. Does activity on social media correlate with lower grades? In an attempt to provide teachers, parents, and educators with a clearer picture of what research shows about social media use and academic performance, these scholars examined 50 studies that consider the link between social media activity and GPA. They sought insight about the effect of three types of social media use on academic grades: general social media activity, multitasking social media use, and social media use for academic purposes. They also examined whether more time spent on social media resulted in less time studying.

The researchers’ analysis shows a surprisingly weak link between social media use and academic performance. While general social media activity and multitasking social media use both had a slight negative association with academic performance, this effect was only significant in studies in which students self-reported their grades. In studies that utilized documented grades, the association between social media use and low grades dwindled to nearly null. Furthermore, social media use for academic purposes showed a slight positive correlation with academic performance. The analysis found no link between time spent on social media and time spent studying.

The variety of studies featured in this analysis and their conflicting reports about social media and grades invite further research into what additional factors might affect the relationship between social media use and academic performance. For example, studies with undergraduate students showed greater negative effects of social media than studies focused on younger adolescents. The researchers also noted that the multitasking data is from 2009-2015. The growing prevalence of smartphones in recent years may have increased multitasking social media use and magnified its consequences. The analysis also drew almost exclusively from studies about Facebook use, while the effects of newer social networks like SnapChat have yet to be studied.

Overall, this study points to the underwhelming and near non-existent link between social media use and academic performance. While ongoing study is needed to grapple with the complexities of learning in a digital age, so far, at least, it seems like students can stay on social media without jeopardizing their grades.

Marker, C., Gnambs, T., & Appel, M. (2018). Active on Facebook and failing at school? Meta-analytic findings on the relationship between online social networking activities and academic achievement. Educational Psychology Review 30(3), 651-677.

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