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Why Students Get Bored in Class and What to Do About It

America has a problem: More and more people are finding themselves bored.  It happens in the workplace, and it happens even more in the classroom. Students feel under-stimulated, disengaged, and simply aren’t interested in what’s going on in the classroom.

Several studies have tried to uncover both the reasons why students are bored in the classroom, with some studies suggesting that students feel bored 1/3 of the time they’re in the classroom and others suggesting that only 25% of 11th graders feel engaged by school. Either way, this is not good news for faculty, who work hard to create a stimulating experience for students. The results of boredom can be quite detrimental; bored students will likely skip class, pay less attention to important material, skip assignments, get lower grades, and have a likelihood to drop out of the class, a program, or College altogether because of lack classroom engagement.

Major Causes of Boredom in the Classroom

  • The subject matter isn’t interesting

    Often, students have to take a variety of courses to fulfill university requirements for a degree, but many of those courses don’t interest or seem relevant to the student. A marketing major might not be interested in Accounting, for example, or an Engineering student might find English to be out of their field of interest. If there’s no connection between the course and the student’s career aspirations, they may not be compelled to engage. 
  • The class is too easy

    When students feel they already know the subject matter, they get bored if they aren’t stimulated. Maybe they had a similar AP-level class in high school, or perhaps they read the book ahead of time and already know the material. Regardless, they don’t feel there’s anything new to learn and their attention wanders.
  • The class is too difficult

    If there’s something that’s too challenging, students might simply “give up” if they feel they can’t grab onto the key concepts and important material.
  • It might be the professor’s fault

    Professors try really hard to make a class meaningful but sometimes they’re doing more harm than good. Professors might use PowerPoint presentations that break all the rules – they’re too wordy, cluttered with too many images, are poorly laid out, or simply can’t convey the material in a meaningful way. Or, a  professor’s delivery and explanations simply aren’t engaging – they speak in a monotone voice, don’t enunciate, or rush through the presentation because they have too much material to cover. And most commonly, a lecture-only format for class, where a  professor talks without inviting questions or discussions within the class period is often a key reason students tune out.

But knowing the problem is only half the solution.  What can professors do to alleviate boredom? Several things, actually. Professors can utilize technology, consider individualized experiential learning, and build small group and team-based exercises to increase engagement. Consider these approaches:

  • Interactive Classrooms

    Use a personal response system that allows students to respond to questions and polls by using a clicker device, their smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop. Students are already trying to use these devices in class, especially if they’re bored and need stimulation, so giving them an appropriate reason to engage might actually make them more interested in the class.
  • Hold Discussions

    Rather than 55 minutes of lecturing, get the students involved in discussing relevant events that relate to the subject matter being taught. If the class is smaller, these discussions are easy to implement but consider breaking larger classes into groups where they discuss among themselves and then share with the entire class.
  • Provide Experiential Learning Activities

    These activities can include mini business simulations or other types of technology-based activities that allow students to make decisions based on a variety of scenarios. They can also include case studies that require students, both individually and in groups, to come up with solutions to real-world scenarios.

Boredom in the classroom is probably inevitable, regardless of the amount of group work, discussion, or any other active learning elements built into the syllabus. But instructors can help mitigate the problems of boredom by reaching their students in a way that makes the class as a whole more interesting, engaging, and relevant to their careers.

About the Author

Ric Sweeney is an Associate Professor in the Marketing Department at the University of Cincinnati's Carl H. Lindner College of Business, specializing in Principles of Marketing, Advertising, Services Marketing, Branding, and Promotions. A passionate educator, Ric serves as faculty advisor for the UC AMA, CATALYST Marketing, and Project Heal, and is a faculty fellow for the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. He has also been a recipient of numerous awards for inspiring the next generation of great marketers, including the Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Barbour Award for Faculty/Student Relations, two of the University’s top awards for excellence. Ric has been a devoted volunteer for the American Marketing Association since 1996, serving locally as a Cincinnati Chapter Board Member and President. From there, he took his AMA volunteering to the national organization. Ric elevated his volunteering for the AMA to its highest level, serving as a Member of the Board of Directors and as the Chairman of the Board. Ric's impact on marketing, just within his AMA volunteering alone, is reflected in the fact that the AMA's annual national Volunteer of the Year award has his name attached to the honor. In 2018, Ric was named a “Cincinnati Marketing Legend” by the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Marketing Association.

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