Although it may feel like social media has been in our lives for a long time, the current generation will be one of the first to navigate their education alongside the presence of technology and social media platforms.
Social media usage is continually growing, even in the past few years. The number of active social media users jumped by 8 million in the UK since 2020 to 53 million users. According to Ofcom, 95% of 16 to 24-year-olds have a social media profile, making them the biggest users of social media in the UK.
Since most students often use social media, we must understand its impact on education.
Negative effects of social media on education
If you think social media doesn’t affect you, think again. According to research at King’s College London, UK adults hugely underestimate how often they check their phones, with most thinking they look at their phones 25 times a day, while studies suggest that most people check their phones 80 times a day.
One of the most harmful effects of social media is its impact on our ability to focus. An article published in the Journal of the World Psychiatric Association, which explored how the internet may be changing our cognition, talked about the idea that even when we’re not using our smartphones for any particular purpose, they have triggered habitual “checking” behaviours. These behaviours are characterised by quick and frequent inspections of our phones for incoming information from news, social media, or personal contacts. According to the article, these habits formed due to the reinforcement of “information rewards”, which release dopamine to the brain every time we receive a notification. These feelings contribute to constant background stress, making it difficult to concentrate on other tasks.
This background stress is proving difficult to manage for many. A survey by the Centre for Attention Studies at King’s College London found that 50% of people feel they sometimes can’t stop checking their smartphones when they should be focusing on other things, despite their best efforts. The same study found that around half of the public feels their attention spans are shorter than they used to be.
Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at the University of Oxford, argues that social media poses a risk to the development of the human mind. Greenfield suggests that brain development, when exposed to technology and social media, might become accustomed to working over short timescales. This could mean that, when faced with tasks that require greater longevity, such as reading a book or paying attention in class, our attention spans may cause us to struggle. This could be particularly detrimental to young people while studying for or taking exams, as these activities require sustained focus.
Another danger of social media is that it can lead to sleep deprivation. A study conducted on 300 17-29-year-old students at Prince Sattam bin Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia found that 46% of students go to bed between 11pm-12pm, and 39% go to bed between 1am-2am. This was linked to social media, as 68% of students in the survey attributed their delayed bedtime to social media use. Sleep deprivation can lead to many negative symptoms, such as reduced attention span, worsened memory, poor decision-making, and lack of energy. Sleep deprivation can also affect your mental health, leading to feelings of stress, anxiety, or irritability.