Why Writing Notes is Better Than Typing When Learning
In today’s college classrooms it’s not uncommon to see people break out the laptops to take notes on a lecture.
It makes sense. If you’re trying to capture as much information as possible, typing is much faster than trying to write your notes by hand. And if you’re like me, my handwriting isn’t what you’d call elegant. I remember trying to understand my own chicken scratch at times.
Typing is not only faster, it’s just way easier to read. Any overachiever is going to pick typing out notes during a lecture every time.
Note taking goes beyond the academic realm too. People in the professional world will take notes at professional seminars, business meetings, and conferences. In fact, you should never stop learning!
Research has discovered that there may be a pitfall to typing out your notes. In an effort to be capturing as much information as possible, you might actually be learning less.
How would that even be possible? Well, let’s take a look.
Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer are two researchers that have taken a look at comparing how students primarily take notes. Either with a laptop or by hand.
Some of you might be aware that laptops in a classroom environment can be distracting. Something that our technology has gotten increasingly good at. So you may think that students could simply be distracted while taking notes. Thus, decreasing their ability to learn.
While laptops can and do have that effect, it seems there’s also another issue at work. Pam – the lead on the study – explains:
“Our new findings suggest that even when laptops are used as intended — and not for buying things on Amazon during class — they may still be harming academic performance.”
So while many of you would think laptops would be a better way to take notes, their research says the opposite.
The study – published in Psychological Science in 2014 – finds that students who take notes with their laptops process the information less effectively than with hand written notes.
The Written Word
Pam and Daniel conducted 3 experiments in classroom settings. Each testing the issue of learning in the handwritten vs. laptop comparison.
They took 65 college students and had them watch 1 of 5 different TED talks. They were instructed to take notes – using their normal note taking strategies – either by laptop or by hand. The laptops were also not connected to the internet, so they wouldn’t be distracted by anything during the talk.
After watching the video, they were given 3 different “distractor” tasks. One completed – and 30 minutes had passed after the lecture – participants were asked to recall information. The researchers used two different types of questions: factual and conceptual type questions. All based on the lectures they had viewed.
Researchers saw that participants from either method did equally well when answering questions based on facts. However, when it came to the conceptual questions, it was the hand writers that had superior performance.
The researchers explain:
“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently.”
It seems that there is a loss in understanding the presented information when taking notes by laptop. The big issue comes when students start to simply transcribe the lectures. There’s no real processing of the information as it’s coming in. Therefore, the more you just transcribe the lecture, the worse you understand the material.
In one of their experiments, Pam and Daniel even explicitly told the laptop note takers to use there own words. To not take notes verbatim. Even with the warning, they found that students still had large amounts of notes that were simply transcribed.
Even more surprising was when the researchers had the students come back a week after taking the notes. The participants were allowed to review their notes before the test. Participants who wrote the notes by hand performed better. This time, though, it was on both the factual and conceptual questions.
Hand Made With Love
Technology can be an exceptional tool. They certainly have their place in education and collaboration, no one denies that.
But you need to use the right tool for the job. And for learning, that tool seems to be good old pen and paper.
It forces you to mentally process information and concepts at a deeper level. A process which may not occur if you’re concentrating more on capturing as much information as possible by typing on a keyboard.