One concern many have with online learning is that digital distraction is much more likely when you’re utilizing a digital device to study. But do personal learning environments really lead to more distraction? Researchers in Taiwan found that students did perceive them to be distracting, but that the type of distraction experienced was different based on students’ gender. In their study, Jiun-Yu Wu and Tzuying Cheng looked at the larger effects of these distractions on students' school experiences.

Participants were comprised of 771 undergraduate and graduate students from 10 universities in Taiwan. All students had an active Facebook account, used their university’s learning management system and personalized learning environment for completing course-related tasks, and had experience collaborating with classmates on assignments. Students completed questionnaires that asked them about their gender identity, how much time they spent on the internet and social media, their multitasking self-efficacy, self esteem as it related to digital distraction, perceived attention problems, and attention self-regulatory strategies when engaging in online learning.

Analysis of the survey results revealed that male participants perceived higher media-related attention problems than female participants. They were more likely to be distracted by social media and digital devices and reported a higher degree of alertness to updates, posts, or comments from their friends while studying. However, male students were also more likely to employ behavioral strategies in order to avoid distractions. Female participants, on the other hand, demonstrated a greater ability to regulate their attention even with increased social media use. However, only female participants who perceived that they were digitally distracted reported that this led to poorer academic achievement.

The results of this study could help colleges develop more effective practical interventions aimed at helping students who are engaged in online learning. Finding ways to support students’ psychological well-being with regard to social media use and learning performance is important for student success and retention, and learning what role gender plays in this context gives educators one more way to pinpoint and solve problems.

Wu, J-Y. & Cheng, T. (2019). Who is better adapted in learning online within the personal learning environment? Relating gender differences in cognitive attention networks to digital distraction. Computers & Education, 128, 312–329.

Image: by Emily Boston via Wikimedia Commons