A Day in the Online Life of a Student

We're living in ultra-connected times, and Jack and Jane College Student have access to a lot of technology, not all of it having a clear academic or pedagogical purpose. Recent research indicates nearly one-fourth of adults in America report being online almost constantly, and this proportion is higher for younger adults (18–29 years old).1  Gaming systems, streaming media devices, and voice-activated personal assistants threaten to suck up valuable time and bandwidth that could otherwise be spent on more academic and intellectual pursuits. Although it might be tempting to think students while away the hours posting on Instagram, binge-watching Netflix, or racking up experience points in World of Warcraft, our data suggest otherwise. Indeed, the typical student is pretty serious about doing the work of being a student.

When we asked them to approximate how much time they spend engaged in online activities in a typical day, overall, students said they devote more time to homework and research online than they do to social media, streaming video, gaming, or other online activities (see figure 8). While the typical student may spend about as much time online doing homework or research as on other online activities, almost half (40%) of students reported spending between 3 and 4 hours a day working online; these results were largely similar across Carnegie class, ethnicity, and gender. The typical student spends about half that amount of time—between 1 and 2 hours—on social media (37% of respondents) and streaming video (36% of respondents). About a third of students (32%) spend less than 1 hour per day on other online activities. The majority of students told us they do not game online, but those who do game are predominantly male. In addition, students who do more homework and research online also tend to be women.

Diagram showing how much time the typical students spends their time online. All data given is approximate. Homework or research = 1-4 hours Streaming video = 1-2 hours Social media = 1-2 hours Other online activities = 0-2 hours Online gaming = 0 hours
Figure 8. How the typical student spends time online

These results highlight the important role connectivity plays in both students' academic work and leisure interests; but more importantly, these findings suggest that much of students' time online is spent on activities related to their coursework. These data are especially salient when we bear in mind that the majority of students (69%) reported working a job while taking classes over the past year; among those, more than half (57%) work between 10 and 29 hours per week. Thus, it seems that Jack and Jane do not have much spare time. Providing dependable Wi-Fi connectivity is key to supporting students in the work they do for their academics, particularly when we also consider that the majority of students prefer blended learning environments. While students do not spend hours on end binging Stranger Things or playing Call of Duty, reliable Wi-Fi connections, especially in on-campus housing and in common spaces, offer them opportunities to balance the demands of college with popular leisure activities and connect with other communities. After all, all work and no play makes Jane and Jack dull students.


  1. Andrew Perrin and Jingjing Jiang, "Almost a Quarter of U.S. Adults Say They Are 'Almost Constantly' Online," Pew Research Center, March 14, 2018.