New research finds that Facebook use is linked to lower university grades, but only for first year students.
You’re supposed to be writing that research paper or reading that article, but instead you’re scrolling through Facebook. If you’re a student, this probably sounds all too familiar. There has been a lot of research on the link between the use of Facebook and academic student performance. As you might expect, the usual trend is that students who use Facebook tend to have worse grades. Recent research however, suggests that the link is subtler and depends on who is using Facebook and how they are using it.
In a paper published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, professor Junco from Iowa State University interviewed over 1,600 university students and examined the link between their use of Facebook and their grades. He split Facebook use into two categories: “regular” use, in which students are fully focused on the website and “multi-tasking”, in which students switch between Facebook and studying. The study also takes students’ year group into account.
The research showed that first and second year students spend the most time on Facebook, at a daily average of nearly two hours. Final year students spend the least amount of time on Facebook, both for “regular” and “multi-tasking” use. See the graph below for the full picture on Facebook use (uncertainties are given in the published paper).
A key result was that more time spent on “regular” Facebook use was linked to lower grades, but only in first year students.
Junco suggests that this is due to a lack of self-regulation skills. First year students are in a new environment, trying to build new relationships while maintaining old ones, and might not yet have learnt to regulate the time they spend on Facebook. In this sense, Facebook is like any other distraction for first year students.
Another key finding was that “multi-tasking” Facebook use was linked to lower grades in all student year groups, except for final year students.
This particular result goes against previous studies that suggest switching tasks is always detrimental to learning. However, Junco points out that there is some evidence to suggest that students who use technology in a certain way during the learning process can avoid any negative impacts from multi-tasking. This area is especially relevant since the current generation of students multi-tasks more than any other generation.
The research highlights the complexity of simply relating Facebook use to students’ grades. Still, there are a few major limitations to the study. Firstly, it isn’t known in which direction the correlation goes. Do first year students have lower grades because they spend more time on Facebook, or do they spend more time on Facebook because they have lower grades? Secondly, the students reported their own use of Facebook, which may not be an accurate representation of their real use. Junco proposes combining students’ answers with an automated method in future studies to get a better picture of how students use Facebook.
Junco, R. (2015). Student class standing, Facebook use, and academic performance Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 36, 18-29 DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2014.11.001