Is Technology Affecting Student Attention?

...the sheer volume of information we are exposed to every day is nearly 200 times more than people were exposed to 20 years ago

In our daily life, we process millions of bits of information. However, our brains can only filter and select a mere 2,000 bits of information per second. This means most of what we perceive never makes it past this filter. Yet, as educators, we need our information to be selected by learners. 

Nevertheless, when faced with all the stimuli fighting for students’ attention, educators seem to be in an uneven battle. One of their most fierce adversaries appears to be technology. Thanks to our technology-driven and interconnected world, the sheer volume of information we are exposed to every day is nearly 200 times more than people were exposed to 20 years ago1. With cell phones, tablets, and video games, students are surrounded by technology, but the questions remain, is technology affecting student attention? Is this “information overload” adversely impacting attention? Are attention spans getting shorter?

Research suggests that technology reduces our attentiveness, especially if we are rapidly shifting between activities. 2, 3, 4Things like social media and video games constantly feed our Divided Attention, which can be an obstacle when studying and learning. This type of technology is designed to engage us by relying on the science of addiction, which is effective but not synonymous with learning. While engagement is lacking and desirable at work and when we are learning (school), it does not necessarily mean that by designing learning around the science of addiction we’ll foster learning or productivity. This approach has nothing to do with learning, and actually weakens our attention spans.4,5

Furthermore, technology can reduce our sustained attention (essential for learning) if we are rapidly shifting between activities that continuously provoke dopamine releases, which is common in video games and all too common when students “study” while texting and listening to music. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that maintains our alertness by signaling novelty (which also induces pleasure). It is increasingly common for students to expect and prefer gratification instead of the sustained effort that is commonly associated with learning. As a result, students can become passive chasers of dopamine. They feel drained and depressed and end up expecting schools to mimic video games and social media. Some EdTech companies capitalize on this vulnerability by using what works to “hook” kids in the classroom environment in order to “solve” engagement. This doesn’t necessarily lead to learning, even if it succeeds to promote engagement.

So, what now? Should we banish technology from schools? Should educators surrender in what seems to be a lost cause? Not at all! Technology can be a great ally if we know how to use it, and attention can be improved with the proper training. Moreover, some types of attention are highly important when students are trying to learn. The key is figuring out how to support and train them. After all, we become what we rehearse.


  1. Chapman, S. B. (2014, December 22). Flex your cortex: 7 secrets to turbocharge your brain. HuffPost.
  2. Kersting, T. (2020). Disconnected: How to protect your kids from the harmful effects of device dependency. BakerBooks.
  3. Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2010). Generation M 2: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-Year-Olds. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
  4. Evangelista, “Attention Loss Feared as High-Tech Rewires Brain”
  5. Ra, C. K., Cho, J., Stone, M. D., De La Cerda, J., Goldenson, N. I., Moroney, E., … & Leventhal, A. M. (2018). Association of digital media use with subsequent symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder among adolescents. Jama, 320(3), 255-263.
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