This appears to be due to increased freedom of use of technology, combined with lower levels of integration of specific technology in the design of specific course material.
A large portion of students uses digital technologies for off-task purposes during classroom lectures, with social networking (especially Facebook), instant messaging, texting, emailing, and web-browsing being used most commonly One experimental study compared the impact of using 4 different technologies for off-task purposes including MSN, email, texting, and facebook, to three control groups during real classroom lectures.
A touchstone 2009 study by Stanford University used experiments to compare heavy media multitaskers to light media multitaskers in terms of their cognitive controll and ability to process information.
Findings from the experiment include: 1) When intentionally distracting elements were added to experiments, heavy media multitaskers were on average 77 milliseconds slower than their light media multitasker counterparts at identifying changes in patterns; 2) In a longer-term memory test that invited participants to recall specific elements from earlier experiments, the high media multitaskers more often falsely identified the elements that had been used most frequently as intentional distracters; 3) In the presence of distracting elements, high media multitaskers were 426 milliseconds slower than their counterparts to switch to new activities and 259 milliseconds slower to engage in a new section of the same activity.
The results of one study showed no benefits to using laptops in improving student GPA in comparison to students who did not use laptops.
Overall, there is a pattern of decreasing the effectiveness of using technology for on-task purposes from the grade school level to the university level.
Media multitasking with other technologies, including MP3 players, voice-based email, the music system, and even the GPS while driving is just as distracting as using a phone. Students can use technologies in the classroom to multi-task in two specific ways when given the choice: For on-task purposes that supplement learning and ease the learning task, or for off-task purposes such as entertainment of social interaction.Much of this multitasking is not inherently coupled or coordinated, except by the user.For example, a user may be browsing the Web, listening to music playing video games, using e-mail, or talking on the phone while watching TV.When people try to do several things at once or multitask, their performance suffers because the completion of their tasks slowed down, due to a constraint called a cognitive bottleneck.A good metaphor to describe the cognitive bottleneck is that of a traffic jam.When an accident occurs on a highway, and several lanes of cars are forced to pass through a single lane, the traffic slows down.Over the decades of research, researchers tried to disprove this theory.Concurrent use of multiple digital media streams, commonly known as media multitasking, has been shown to be associated with depressive symptoms and social anxiety in a single study of 318 participants.One of the authors commented that the data doesn't "unambiguously show that media multitasking causes a change in attention and memory," but that it is not efficient, and one may argue to multitask less on digital media.The results showed that students in the MSN and Facebook TM conditions scored lower on a memory test than the paper notes control group.When examining the amount of multitasking instead of specific technologies, the results showed that greater levels of multitasking led to progressively lower grades.