Principal author Fang-Yi Flora Wei, an assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, said the study involved selected undergraduate general education students who completed an anonymous questionnaire at the end of the semester.
In addition, the students also rated themselves on specific learning variables regarding their class. These variables included self-regulation, which Wei defined as "self-control in directing one's learning process," sustained attention and outcomes of cognitive learning."
Because it is difficult to demonstrate that texting alone can have a direct impact on students' cognitive learning, Wei said, the research team used path model analysis to describe the relationships between texting, as a "mediator" or intervening variable, and cognitive learning.
Among 190 completed questionnaires from students who attended a lecture-based class lasting 50 or 75 minutes, the average number of text messages students viewed in class was 2.6.
The study published in the journal Communication Education highly self-regulated students were less likely to text message in class than students with lower levels of self-regulation.
"College students may believe that they are capable of performing multitasking behaviors during their classroom learning, such as listening to the lecture and texting simultaneously," Wei said. "But the real concern is not whether students can learn under a multitasking condition, but how well they can learn if they cannot sustain their full attention on classroom instruction."