Taking notes by hand, rather than using a laptop, is better for learning, according to a recently reported study. The study showed that people who write out their notes on paper actually learn more than those who use laptops in a classroom.
The study was carried out by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, from the University of California in Los Angeles, and was published in Psychological Science. The students were tested at Princeton University and the University of California.
Students who took notes using a laptop tended to write down what their professor said verbatim. They also took more notes than the students who wrote by hand. However, this did not give them an edge when it came time to remember what was said.
In the study, half of the students wrote notes by hand and half used a laptop. After listening to a lecture, the students were tested on their memory of facts, their conceptual understanding, and their ability to summarize the information from the lecture. Students who wrote notes by hand had a better understanding of the material presented in the lecture and they also were more successful in applying the information compared to students who took notes with a laptop.
The authors of the report explained the results by saying that taking notes by hand uses a different type of cognitive processing. Writing by hand is slower than typing on a computer and, therefore, one listens more attentively when writing. The person is forced to think harder when writing notes by hand. When students are taking verbatim notes using a computer, they do not listen as well and it is possible they assume that they can always go back and look at the notes in full later.
The researchers employed many types of topics in the study. They had students listen to lectures on bats, bread, algorithms, respiration and economics. The results were consistent, however, that taking notes by hand was better than using a laptop.
In another twist, the researchers asked the students using laptops to just summarize the information in the lecture rather than write it down verbatim. Nevertheless, students using computers were still not better at synthesizing the information in the lecture. The results from the study even held up when students were tested on the material a week later, which is more like the setting of test taking in a real classroom.
When the students were participating in the study, they did not have access to the internet. In a real life setting, however, students have access to Wi-Fi and other studies have shown that students spent about 40 percent of their class time using the internet rather than paying attention to the lecture. A study with law students found that about 60 percent of the students were distracted for half the class. If this is true for dedicated law students, then what must the percentage be for young undergraduates taking a science class to fulfill a requirement?
Using a laptop is not better than taking notes by hand, it seems. While the study has provided ample evidence that this is true, it may make many students unhappy if professors start to refuse allowing laptops in the classroom. That urge to get on the internet and check emails during class would just have to be unfulfilled. Imagine how distracting that could be.
By Margaret Lutze