Putting Education Reform To The Test

Why Mobile Devices Might Mean Shorter Attention Spans

Electronic devices, such as mobile phone or tablets, may be reducing kids' ability to focus on tasks.

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Electronic devices, such as mobile phone or tablets, may be reducing kids' ability to focus on tasks.

Mobile gadgets such as phones and tablet computers may be eroding kids’ attention spans and contributing to a rise in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder diagnosis, according to researchers in this Time magazine piece.

That’s because mobile devices condition their users to expect constant, electronic stimulus. When kids put down those devices, the real world can seem slow-paced and less interesting.

From the story:

Researchers are reluctant to say there is a direct correlation between gadgets and ADHD, but there are strong parallels between the upswing in diagnoses and an increase of screen time. One important finding: children and young adults who overdo TV and video games are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a variety of attention-span disorders, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics.

“ADHD is 10 times more common today than it was 20 years ago,” said Dimitri Christakis, the George Adkins professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Although it is clear that ADHD has a genetic basis, given that our genes have not changed appreciably in that time frame, it is likely that there are environmental factors that are contributing to this rise.”

Part of the problem is the fragmented, action-packed nature of electronic media. Christakis found that faster-paced shows increased the risk of attention issues. The brains of children adapt to that speed, so when they’re forced to work in the slower pace of life, they often struggle to pay attention because it’s less stimulating and rewarding.

Technology is both an opportunity and a challenge for schools as they try to develop new, more effective ways to reach students. Students live their lives on mobile devices and the Internet, educators argue, so why not incorporate them in schools as well?

Florida lawmakers have required half of all instruction be delivered digitally by 2015, and tablets and other mobile devices are one way to meet that goal. Some schools are giving every student a laptop or tablet, while others have encouraged students to bring their own mobile devices to class.

We’ve written before about the possibilities of digital education. But it’s important to remember there will likely be negatives schools must deal with as well.


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