With laptops being such a primary tool for notetaking in colleges these days, you might be surprised to know that students used to take notes by hand, with pen and paper. I can hear my parents saying it now: “when I was in school, we didn’t have laptops, we had to take all our notes by hand.” Jokes aside, it’s an undeniable fact that the sound of pens and pencils frantically scrawling across paper is something that’s gradually become drowned out by the frantic typing on keyboards. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, researchers have raised the question of whether or not students are hindering their ability to learn by taking notes in this way. A recent study has indicated that their suspicions may be right.
Why Handwritten Notes Enhance Learning
According to Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University, author of the study that was published in Psychological Science, “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…” (1) The study found it’s the pacing of note taking that makes the difference. It’s true, typing helps you take notes faster, but handwriting notes helps your brain better retain the information. The researches of the study had 65 students choose one of five TED Talks. Each talk was about something that could easily hold their interest. Each student was given a laptop and notepaper and told to take notes in whatever way was most comfortable to them.
After 30 minutes of notetaking and TED Talks, the students were given questions to assess their information retention. The questions based on the TED Talks included both factual-recall questions and conceptual-application questions. After assessing the results, the researchers found that both laptop note-takers and handwriting note-takes performed equally well on the factual-recall questions, while the laptop note-takers did significantly worse on the conceptual-application questions. (1)
What Does This Mean?
According to Mueller, the reasoning for these results is that when students type their notes, they focus on getting in as much of the lecture as possible. Handwriting notes force students to slow down and be selective about what they write down. This selectiveness causes the brain to better process the information and therefore, retain it better. (1)
Because of these results, Mueller along with her team strongly support the notion that handwriting notes is the most effective form of note-taking. They, of course, acknowledge that the likelihood of every student reverting back to handwriting their notes is very low. But they still encourage it. When it comes to healthy study habits, every little bit counts. They also discuss other digital note taking methods that more closely resemble handwriting, such as Livescribe, that can provide students with the same effects as physical handwriting. (1, 2)
Whether you prefer laptops or notepaper, these findings are certainly worth considering, especially if you’re in school or have children who are in school. Let’s not let the art of handwriting slip away too easily with the modern rise of technology.