The researchers pointed out that university lecturers are encouraged to develop blended learning initiatives and bring tech -- videos, podcasts, Facebook pages, etc. -- into the classroom more and more to offer students the enhanced experiences enabled by digital media.
However, an important effect of these initiatives has been to establish media use during university lectures as the norm, they warned.
Studies across the world show that students constantly use their phones when they are in class.
"But here's the kicker: if you think they are following the lecture slides or engaging in debates about the topic you are mistaken," Mr Le Roux, who conducted the research with Douglas Parry of Stellenbosch University, noted.
"In fact, this is hardly ever the case. When students use their phones during lectures they do it to communicate with friends, engage in social networks, watch YouTube videos or just browse around the web to follow their interests."
Such behaviour is problematic for two reasons, according to the researchers.
"The first is that when we engage in multitasking, our performance on the primary task suffers. Making sense of lecture content is very difficult when you switch attention to your phone every five minutes. A strong body of evidence supports this, showing that media use during lectures is associated with lower academic performance," Mr Le Roux said.
"The second reason is that it harms students' ability to concentrate on any particular thing for an extended period of time. They become accustomed to switching to alternative streams of stimuli at increasingly short intervals. The moment the lecture fails to engage or becomes difficult to follow, the phones come out," he added.
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