After discussing the use of social media in higher education both inside and outside of the classroom on my last post, you may agree that there are indeed certain social problems created by excessive use of social media, especially for students who are vulnerable to stimulates and desires that are basically everywhere online. Since most of us don’t have the willpower or tendency to entirely disconnect from social media, and we sometimes do need these tools to network and finish school works, learning how to use social sites in smarter ways that make them learning assets instead of obstacles is one of the best things you can do for your academic career and beyond.
These following guidelines are proposed specifically for college students like you — so if you are struggling with your attention span, try to implement these principles into your daily life, and let me know whether these are able to help you or not:
1. Unplug from Social Media and Similar Distractions
Leelawatte Popali-Lehane, a clinical psychologist at Diversity in Aging, says that a critical part of success for online students (or any students) in balancing their studies and their social media usage is set aside time just for working on class materials. Unless social media is explicitly required to complete an assignment, during these hours you should instruct friends and family not to contact you and turn off cell phones, block access to social sites, and reduce the number of things that can potentially distract you. Facebook can wait.
2. Set Time Limits for Computer-Related Activities
Popali-Lehane also recommends setting strict limits on checking emails, texts, and social sites. Checking them frequently can become a rather distracting habit that makes it hard for you to concentrate on more important and academically focused tasks. If you find yourself repeatedly checking them when you shouldn’t be, set up programs like a Pomodoro timer on your computer that will encourage you to focus in a given period of time.
If you find that you simply can’t seem to kick the habit of checking social sites, Popali-Lehane advises getting out of the house and leaving the technology behind. “If you have a project to do, you can start your research at a brick-and-mortar library and get help from the librarian in finding hard copies of materials like books, magazines, and newspapers,” she says. “This way, you limit the temptation to surf and consequently waste precious time.”
3. Leave your Laptop at Home, Take Notes with Pen and Paper
And if you’re not an online student? Popali-Lehane says that no matter how cool it may seem to bring your laptop to class, it’s actually more of a distraction than an easy way to take notes. She finds that most of her students lose focus when they get an email or start browsing social sites instead of paying attention, so good old fashioned pen and paper may be the best choice.
4. Identify Productive Ways to Use Social Media
If you do have to use social media for class, make it productive. Get to know your professor, share resources, talk to experts, and keep up with the news of the world instead of getting lost in online games or mindlessly checking for updates from friends. There are many positive and productive ways to use social media, and applying them to your courses can help you get more out of what you’re learning and overcome feelings of isolation that can plague many new students both online and off.
At the end of the day, anything can be a distraction if you let it, even things that can have a largely positive influence on your life. Social media is no more a success killer than any of these, provided you use it wisely and don’t allow it to become a distraction that keeps you from achieving the things you really want to do. In some cases, it can even be an asset for learning, keeping you connected and engaged with your courses, your field, and your colleagues. The trick is figuring out how to navigate the fine line between productivity and obsession and come out ahead on the other side.