Laptops in class have benefits, but can also promote distraction for users and others sitting beside or behind them
Photo Credit: Robert F. Bukaty- Associated Press

New study shows computers in class distract both users and non-users


It’s a common sight these days in schools across Canada. More and more students are using laptop computers in class, especially at the university level, but there may be drawbacks for those students and even for others sitting close to them.

The study simulated actual class situations © courtesy Faria Sana

A new study showed that laptop use in class can result in lower grades for students.

Faria Sana is a doctoral candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in the department of Psychology Neuroscience and Behaviour. She conducted the study along with York University’s Tina Weston under the guidance of  York’s Melody Wiseheart


The study involved volunteer first year university students in a replication of typical lecture situations.

The first aspect looked at the effect of multi-tasking on the ability to absorb class information. All participants were asked to bring their laptops and take notes as they listened to a lecture on meterology. Some however were asked to also perform unrelated task- such as find a person on Facebook- when they felt they had the time during the lecture. This was to mimic what distracted students might do doing a class.


Co-author, Faria Sana of McMaster University,
Hamilton, On
© courtesy McMaster University

In the second experiment, some students had laptops, others had pen and paper.  Some with pen and paper were seated apart from the laptop users, while others were beside or behind tham. This was to see if students without laptops were dstracted by those with laptops

In both cases a quiz was given at the end to see how well students had absorbed the information.

Faria Sana of McMaster University who co-authored the study with Tina Weston of York University , said  the study was designed to simulate actual classroom situations.

In the first phase, she said she expected the multi-taskers to have lower scores.  The test results later confirmed what previous researchers had found. Students asked to multitask did not do as well as those not multi-tasking.

However, she said, in the second phase she also expected some degree of distraction for those not using laptops but sitting close to laptop users.  However, she was surprised by the degree to which the scores showed that those sitting close to laptop users were distracted.  Equally surprising was the fact that after asking those close to the laptop users if they did get distracted, most felt they were not affected by the laptops.

Co-author Tina Weston of York University, Toronto
© courtesy York University

 In the first phase, the multitakers scores were 11% lower, and in the second phase those with pen and paper sitting with laptop users, had a 17% lower score.

Sana said, this shows that students can be affected by what other laptop users are doing without even realizing they are being distracted.

She pointed out that there is no question of banning laptops, but some students are not paying attention and visiting internet sites which not only affects their grades but also those around them.

She notes that some classes already have electronic blocking to prevent internet distractions by smartphones or computers.

The next phase of the research will look at what it is that is creating the distraction for nearby sutdents  such as the sound of the clicking keyboard or images on the screens or both.

study published in Computers and Education


Posted in Internet, Science and Technology, Society

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21 comments on “New study shows computers in class distract both users and non-users
  1. Delp says:

    Laptops can enable students to write papers all the more effectively also. Typing can make the students procedure go quicker, and the tools in word handling programming make it less demanding for students to edit their work. By writing on laptops rather than a desktop computer, students can work at home, in the library or amid work time in class.

  2. Best UK says:

    I completely agree with this as I know this very well as I am an essay writer, and mostly using laptop or desktop for my writing, my child and wife both get distracted from that.

  3. Jeff says:

    You just can’t pay attention the whole time to something. Especially if you have an entertainment device by your side.

  4. Rahul says:

    This is very wonderful for the everyone

  5. Sonu says:

    You are really very amazing, thanks a lot for share this with us

  6. This is a great post thanks for the information!

  7. Sarah Nelson says:

    I really appreciated your effects to write a great content.

  8. Finally I found what I was looking for, only took 4 pages of search results.

  9. WiFi Rental says:

    This is an awesome and informative post thanks !

  10. Wow! this is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing and useful information with us, you have got an interesting way of communicating the message in your blogs, really liked it, keep bogging and keep sharing the useful work.

  11. Top students are the ones you get out of the edge of your eye. They recover their exam, serenely flip through the hardly any blunders they made, and quickly put their “A” score exam or 95% scored exam into their sack.

    It’s hard to believe, but it’s true, I’m discussing those best students who influence it to look so natural. Keep in mind that looks can be beguiling, and what we don’t understand is that under the surface there is an accumulation of constructive propensities and outlooks that make that individual so effective in class. Not only a couple, but rather an amassing of numerous propensities that join to create abnormal state scholarly execution.

  12. Students acknowledged the costs of monitoring digital devices instead of their professors: They admitted they don’t pay interest, miss instruction, that their grades can also go through, and they may be known as out by means of their professors. but maximum respondents indicated they can’t or received’t alternate their behavior.

  13. I find that it distracts clients and non-clients, in any case, I do surmise that it makes note taking and research for ventures/assignments less demanding.

  14. You can really get yourself into trouble and its so easy to do. I’ve had friend loose their jobs over social media incidents, because they haven’t put that time in to think about whether this is the right thing to post or share out to the world.

  15. OK Essay says:

    Here they are told to turn off phones and tablets should only be used for note taking. The lecture notes are not released until after the lecture unless the student has a specific need to have them during (eg limited vision). Paper and pen has less distractions.

    based on the number of texts i receive during lesson times at school, i wish schools would make kids hand in phones too, we had to have words!

  16. Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  17. I find that it does distract users and non-users, however I do think that it makes note taking and research for projects/assignments easier.

  18. Edward Schweikert says:

    The pro/con cycle continues.