Old Tech

finger starAt school taking lots of notes always felt distracting. It’s hard to imagine typing lots of notes during a lecture, but lots of people do it. It looks like taking notes by hand produces better learning.

Here’s my shortened version of an article on new research by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer.

Students writing their notes on paper actually learn more. In three experiments, students took notes in a classroom setting and were tested on their memory for factual detail, conceptual understanding of the material, and their ability to synthesize and generalize the information.

Half of the students were instructed to take notes with a laptop, and the other half were instructed to write the notes out by hand. Students using laptops took more notes. In each study, those writing their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful applying and integrating the material than those typing notes.

What drives this paradoxical finding? Maybe taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than typing them, and these different processes have consequences for learning.

Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture. Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize, succinctly capturing the essence of the information. Taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” fostering comprehension and retention.

By contrast, the typing students can easily produce a complete written record of the lecture without processing its meaning without devoting much thought to the content.