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Plugged in: Five Ways College Student Internet Use is Unique

Seems like everyone these daysImage is constantly plugged in: it’s no surprise that today’s college students are some of the biggest internet users. Look around any campus and you’ll see college students connecting all over the place.

There are students thumbing smart phones while waiting in line for coffee, lining library tables with laptops, and up late in the common room with tablets on their knees. No matter the device of choice, on a college campus, everyone’s connected.

So what exactly are students doing online? And is college student internet use all that different from that of those who left the quad years ago?

To supplement what we've learned from experience, we took a look at some studies from the 2011 Pew Internet and American Life Project and the First Monday article, Everyday Life, Online: U.S. College Students’ Use of the Internet. 

 Let's break it down with five characteristics of college student internet use you should know:

1.   It’s not all fun and games, but most of the time, it is

You might be thinking, shouldn't this list include studying? College students are, after all, students. The answer is yes; the internet has certainly made it easier than ever for students to conduct research, access online course content, and share academic materials. However, students are spending a significant portion of their time online doing non-academic activities.

Take a snapshot of a student’s internet activity for one day and you’ll see that a lot of time is spent emailing, IMing or chatting, playing games, connecting on social networking sites, and watching videos.

So while college student internet use isn’t all fun and games, the majority of the time, it is.

2.  It’s as basic as breakfast 

Millenials are the first generation to truly embrace internet devices and activities like social networking as an essential part of daily life. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that unlike older generations who marvel at internet-related technologies as new innovations, millenials seamlessly weave them into their daily lives, as if they were old friends. Consuming and sharing information across multiple devices and websites feels familiar and natural to college students. 

3.  It’s all about usability

Pop quiz: True or false? Today’s college student internet users are tech-savvy. 

Answer: False. It’s a commonly held misconception that college student internet users are all tech wizards. There’s a big difference between frequently using technology and being tech savvy.

In our experience, college students don’t always care how an app or new technology works. They just want it to be easy to access and use. Give them a product that takes too long to figure out, and they’re on to the next one.

4.  It’s dynamic and participatory 

College students are both consumers and creators in the internet community. They spend time devouring information from news sites, blogs, and social networking sites and posting content of their own.

As a group, they appreciate interactive opportunities to access information and contribute ideas. The internet has given college students a voice, and they like to use it. To them, no website is complete without that little blank box asking them to share their opinions in the form of a comment.

5.  Connecting to connect: it’s all about social 

Social networking sites are the new common rooms. Millenials, more than any other age group, use the internet primarily for connecting with others. They’re also the only generation that thinks technology makes people closer together rather than isolated.  

It isn’t surprising then that 86% of millenials who attend or have attended college identify themselves as social network users. They build and maintain social relationships through Facebook, Twitter, email, chat programs, and blogging. They’re visiting social networking sites multiple times a day. Some even describe their online social activity as an addiction.

Talk to a college student and they’d ask, what’s the point of accessing the wealth of information on the internet if you can’t share it? When it comes down to it, it’s all about social.

What has your experience been with college student internet use? Where do you see students spending their time online? Comment and let us know what you think. 

For more information on engaging Millenials, check out Localist's website.

Image: StockLite /Shutterstock


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