Disengagement during lectures: Media multitasking and mind wandering in university classrooms

Jeffrey D. Wammes, Brandon C.W. Ralph, Caitlin Mills, Nigel Bosch, Tracy L. Duncan, Daniel Smilek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


In university classrooms, the use of laptops or smartphones for purposes unrelated to the lecture is on the rise. Consequently, it is important to understand how frequently this behavior occurs, to track whether it increases throughout a lecture, and to quantify the potential costs to learning. In two studies, we measured rates of disengagement during lectures related to media use (i.e. media multitasking; Studies 1 & 2) and lecture-unrelated thoughts (i.e. mind wandering; Study 2). We also measured the impact of these behaviors on learning using quiz questions at the end of each lecture, and students’ actual course tests. In both Study 1 and 2, we found that rates of media multitasking were relatively high and increased as time elapsed in a lecture, while in Study 2, consistent with prior work, rates of mind wandering remained relatively stable. Interestingly, media multitasking - but not mind wandering - was associated with negative learning outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-89
Number of pages14
JournalComputers and Education
StatePublished - Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant to Daniel Smilek, an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship to Jeffrey D. Wammes, and an NSERC Postgraduate Doctoral Scholarship to Brandon C. W. Ralph.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • Media in education
  • Pedagogical issues
  • Post-secondary education


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