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Technology Breaks Suggested as Way to Improve Learning Focus

Think students' attention spans are shorter with easy access to digital technology? You're right.

When middle school, high school, and college students were observed studying for 15 minutes at home, they were only able to stay on task for an average of three to five minutes before losing focus. The biggest distractions: phones, iPods, or computers. Students were often pulled away from their work by the urge to text or check Facebook, according to the study of 263 students.

"The results were startling, considering that the students knew we were watching them and most likely assumed we were observing how well they were able to study," writes Larry Rosen in eCampus News about the research.

Not surprisingly, the students who were better at resisting the technology temptations and stay on task had higher grades. Even checking Facebook just once during the 15-minute period was linked with a lower GPA, the experiment reveals.

So what are educators and parents to do? Rosen, who is a professor of psychology at California State University, suggests giving students "technology breaks." After 15 minutes of focus time, give students a chance to check texts, the Web, and Facebook for one minute. Then devices must be silenced and turned upside down on the desks. This approach can also be used at home.

The trick, writes Rosen, is to slowly lengthen the focus time to help improve students' concentration. It's a strategy that acknowledges the technology isn't going away and will likely become even more pervasive.

"Tech breaks can be used to train the brain to focus without the worry and anxiety about what we might be missing in our virtual social world," Rosen concludes in his article, "Driven to Distraction: How to Help Wired Students Learn to Focus."

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