Digital Information Overload Overwhelms and Distracts Students


Home / Digital Information Overload Overwhelms and Distracts Students

How do teachers use technology? Image by kylemac

Decoded Science: Were any of these results surprising? For example the contradiction? As implied in the question above could it be the own teachers’ subjectivity that causes the contradiction?

Lee Rainie: It was fascinating and instructive to see the complexities and paradoxes in teachers’ answers. For a long time in our research, we’ve found that people have ambivalent feelings about technology – they like lots of the benefits and personal empowerment these tools offer; but they worry about a host of things and they especially worry about the way others can misuse technology or be overwhelmed by it. These teachers bring those ambivalent views into their answers.

Decoded Science: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Lee Rainie: Here are some of the other parts of these findings that were either surprising or particularly interesting to us:

  • Overall, it was surprising throughout that among this sample of teachers, who teach across different types of communities, teach different grade levels and subject matter, and teach students from very different socioeconomic backgrounds that there were generally only slight difference, if at all, in their views of the impact of digital tools on their students.  Even when comparing younger and older teachers and those with different levels of teaching experience, very few notable differences emerged.


  •  While it is not surprising to find that students rely on the internet and various online tools and platforms to conduct research, the degree to which these resources dominate their research is noteworthy. Asked whether their students are likely to use any of 11 traditional and non-traditional resources when conducting research, the three teachers say their students are mostly likely to use are Google or other online search engines (94% say their students are very likely to use this source), Wikipedia or other online encyclopedias (75%), and YouTube or other social media sites (52%).  Research librarians (16%) and printed books other than textbooks (12%) were near the bottom of the list of likely used resources.
  •  Cell phones as a source of real-time information are becoming important learning tools for middle and high school students.  Fully 42% of the teachers surveyed report their students use cell phones to look up information in class.
  •  In terms of the broad impacts they see the internet and digital tools having on their students, these teachers are divided on whether today’s students are fundamentally different from prior generations — 47% agree and 52% disagree with the statement that “today’s students are really no different than previous generations, they just have different tools through which to express themselves.” Responses to this item were consistent across the full sample of teachers regardless of the teachers’ age or experience level, the subject or grade level taught, or the type of community in which they teach.  At the same time, asked whether they agree or disagree that “today’s students have fundamentally different cognitive skills because of the digital technologies they have grown up with,” 88% of the sample agree, including 40% who “strongly agree.”
Many thanks to Lee Rainie and Joel Malley for their time!


Kristen Purcell, Lee Rainie et al.  Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives. (2012). Pew Research. Accessed November 4, 2012.

Kristen Purcell, Lee Rainie et al. How Teens Do Research in the Digital World. (2012). Pew Research. Accessed November 4, 2012.

Leave a Comment