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

Apparently, the pen is mightier than the keyboard!

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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.

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.

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

This study alone probably won’t get students to give up their laptops and bring back their notebooks. “I think it is a hard sell to get people to go back to pen and paper,” Mueller says. “But they are developing lots of technologies now like Livescribe and various stylus and tablet technologies that are getting better and better. And I think that will be sort of an easier sell to college students and people of that generation.”

Photo: Dreamstime

However, encouraging your child to take notes with a pen and paper might do them a lot of good in the long run. Teaching them about the benefits of note-taking and how to take effective notes can also help their performance.

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Here are some tips from GreatSchool to share with your child for more effective note-taking.

1. Use a fresh page for every class each day, dating each page

This will make it easier for your child to go back and scan through their notes. Leaving spaces between topics or ideas makes their notes more organized.

2. Instead of taking down sentences, note key words and concepts

Teach your child different abbreviations (like e.g. for example or w/ for with).

3. Review notes after each class to make sure they’re complete

Instead of waiting for an assignment, going over notes while the knowledge is still fresh helps you make sure that everything is in order.

Be sure to check out ParentTown for more insightful stories, questions, and answers from parents and experts alike. If you have any insights, questions or comments regarding the topic, please share them in our Comment box below.