Laptop vs notebook: Taking notes by hand more effective, according to study

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Apparently, the pen is mightier than the keyboard!

More and more students today are choosing to take notes with laptops and tablets, but according to a recent study, doing things the old-fashioned way—taking notes by hand—is actually more beneficial.

First off, laptops and tablets are more distracting, as it’s easier to distract oneself by surfing on the internet when you don’t feel like listening. On top of that, it seems that you actually learn more when you take notes by hand.

Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles found that people are able to retain and process more knowledge when they take notes by hand.

laptop vs notebook

Photo: Dreamstime

There are two theories as to how note-taking is beneficial:

  • encoding hypothesis: when a person takes notes, they process the knowledge, thus improving learning and retention
  • external-storage hypothesis: you learn from looking over your notes, and even the notes of other people

There are two kinds of note-taking:

  • generative: “summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping”
  • non-generative: copying something verbatim

“The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective”

Because people type faster than they can write, they have a tendency to transcribe everything they’re hearing instead of processing the information and summarizing.

“When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller explained to NPR. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective—because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

The benefits of transcribing everything is that you have more information to look back at afterwards. But the researchers found that people who took notes with laptops did “significantly worse” when asked conceptual questions, even when given the time to study their notes.

“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,” the researchers wrote in their study.

On the next page: how to teach your kids to take effective notes.

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