Stop typing! Why taking handwritten notes in class is best

Stop typing! Why taking handwritten notes in class is best

My teen has a school-issued laptop computer that she uses in every class. As great a learning tool as it is, there is one aspect of classroom learning that is not improved by the laptop: note-taking. Research shows that taking notes with the old-fashioned paper and pen method may be the best way to go.

Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles conducted studies examining student note-taking by computer and by hand, one of which was published in the journal Psychological Science.

They found that those students writing by hand showed better comprehension and retention of information than those typing.

Turns out that students approach note taking in a very different way when armed with a keyboard.

“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 told NPR.

While it’s possible to get more of the instructors words memorialized, that doesn’t always lead to better learning. In fact, it’s counterproductive.

Less really is more when it comes to note taking in class.

Mueller and Opphenheimer believe that taking notes longhand requires more thought that taking dictation. Because students can write less, they have to synthesize information – they hear, process and summarize it quickly.

The way that people synthesize information when taking notes with pen and paper is why taking handwritten notes in class is best. It “forces the brain to work harder mentally, therefore fostering comprehension and retention,” as explained in “A Secret for Learning: Don’t Take Notes with Your Laptop” in Collective Evolution.

It also requires more focus. And with the internet just a click a way on a laptop, focus is already a challenge.

That doesn’t mean that typing is all bad, however. There are a few advantages detailed in this PBS article, including that they are easier to organize and more portable. Also, while not impossible, it is harder to lose notes with cloud computing.

Laptops aren’t going away, but it may be worth asking your student to try taking notes by hand for a few classes to see if they notice a difference. What works best for one student may not work for others. And the study did address the fact that taking notes, either on computer or by hand, is far better for learning than not taking any notes at all.

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