Surfing the Internet in Class Harms Academic Performance

student texting during classSurfing the Internet during class doesn’t just steal focus from the educator; it also hurts students who are already struggling to grasp the material. A new study from Michigan State University, though, argues that all students—including high achievers—see a decline in performance when they scour the Internet during class for non-academic purposes.

The Internet and Academic Performance

To measure the effects of Internet-based distractions during class, researchers evaluated 500 students taking an introductory psychology class at Michigan State University. Researchers used ACT scores as a measure of intellectual aptitude. Because previous research has shown that people with high intellectual abilities are better at filtering out distractions, researchers believed students with high ACT scores would not show a significant decrease in performance due to their use of digital devices. But students who surfed the web during class did worse on their exams regardless of their ACT score, suggesting that even the academically smartest students are harmed when they’re distracted in class.

Digital Distractions on College Campuses

College professors are increasingly raising alarm bells about the effects smartphones, laptops, and tablets have on academic performance. One 2013 study of college students found that 80% of students use their phones or laptops during class, with the average student checking their digital devise 11 times in a typical class. A quarter of students report that their use of digital devices during class causes their grades to suffer.

Professors sometimes implement policies designed to minimize students’ use of digital devices, and some instructors even confiscate tablets and phones. In a world where people are increasingly dependent on their phones, though, such strategies often fail. One international study found that 84% of people say they couldn’t go a day without their smartphones. Until students are able to resist the pull of social networking, texting, and endlessly surfing the web, they may continue to struggle in their classes.


  1. Duerson, M. H. (2012, August 16). We’re addicted to our phones: 84% worldwide say they couldn’t go a single day without their mobile device in their hand. Retrieved from
  2. Study: Web surfing in class hurts top students too. (2014, June 18). Retrieved from
  3. UNL study shows college students are digitally distracted in class. (2013, October 23). Retrieved from

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  • laura p.

    laura p.

    June 23rd, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    This isn’t that big of a revelation. Surfing the internet when you are supposed to be paying attention to something else is certain to distract you and will lead you to focusing on the wrong things for sure.

    I do believe that students who are stronger overall can bounce back from this a little more easily than those who have a harder time in class; I would also suspect that the ones who are doing this are the ones who already don’t understand the material very well so they are searching for anything to take them away from it.

  • Mr. Woods

    Mr. Woods

    June 23rd, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    Kids have been encouraged to bring their tablets and computers into the classroom because we all know that technology is where it’s at and this how they learn best. It would be silly to have a classroom today where students did not have access to so much information right at their fingertips because this is the way we live right now. I know that there are concerns about kids doing poorly when they have this kind of access in class, but come on. They are adults for the most part and when they get jobs in the real world there won’t be anyone there looking over their shoulder telling them not to be online at that time. They need to learn how to prioritize and juggle multiple jobs at once. That is a huge part of what college is all about. It can also be about learning how to fail. I don’t think that it is up to the professors to monitor this. If the students wants to be a success he will be and he will know the things he can or can’t do to make that happen.

  • Devon


    June 24th, 2014 at 4:26 AM

    I see lots of students in my classes goofing off and fooling around online while they are in class and all I can think is that obviously their education is not worth as much to them as mine is to me.
    I pay my own tuition, books, rent, everythign and have never received any help from my parents. This is probably the difference between me and them. I am a little more invested in what I get out of this than what they are.

  • Bryant


    June 24th, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    So what’s the answer supposed to be? Go back to the good old days of blackboards and chalk, writing notes down furiously like a mad man? How is that preparing students for life in the job market — it isn’t. They have to learn to juggle all of these distractions and decipher on their own what things they can be without for a little while and what things that they need to keep up in class. No one wants to think that they are paying tuition for the students to go in and not pay attention, but it happens, it has always happened, and it will continue to happen in these young kids who quite simply have many other things on their mind. We can worry all we want but they have got to learn to roll with it and if they think that having a screen in front of them isn’t beneficial, then guess what? leave it at home and try something different. We can’t fight all the wars for them.

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