GUEST POST: Let Me Check My Notes! Laptops May be Less Effective for Class Note-Taking
By: Brook Fulton
Brook Fulton received her B.A in Psychology from Goucher College. She was once a Biology major, but when a friend introduced her to Psychology she was hooked. She enjoys figuring out how the mind functions and what makes people tick. Cognitive and Clinical Psychology are her preferred areas of focus. Brook plans on furthering her career in Graduate school with focuses on Clinical and Cognitive Psychology.
Many college students live by one device: their laptops. A laptop travels everywhere with these students. It is used in the classroom, in the dorm room, and on the go. These portable devices can hold a student’s life within its memory. It is versatile enough to be used for entertainment or for school. Unfortunately, the laptop may not be ideal when it comes to certain classroom activities – specifically note-taking during lectures.
One of the main reasons why students like using laptops in class is that taking notes on a laptop is easy and convenient. Many students feel as though they can focus more on the lecture as they type out exactly what their professor is saying. This can feel like a safety net because a student can always go back later to review the lecture based on their notes. Many students believe that if their notes have everything their professor said in class, then they will excel in the course.
Many students assume that more detailed notes, which are faster and easier to type, must be better than less detailed, shorter, more cumbersome handwritten notes. But what if this assumption was incorrect? Mueller and Oppenheimer (1) examined how longhand note-taking may be more beneficial for student learning when compared to note-taking on a laptop. Each group was told to watch a TED talk and to take notes how they normally would – either in longhand or typed using a computer. Then the participants were given a quiz with both factual and conceptual questions pertaining to the TED talk. While participants in both conditions performed relatively the same when it came to factual questions, the longhand group greatly outperformed the laptop group when it came to conceptual questions. These results bring up additional questions: If students rely so much on their laptops, and assume that this type of note-taking is superior, why do people writing out notes outperform laptop note-takers? What difference is there between longhand notes and laptop notes?
Muller and Oppenheimer analyzed the data further to answer these questions. They found that laptop note-takers had more verbatim (word for word) overlap with what was being said during the TED talks. Their notes also had a higher word count. Meanwhile, the longhand note-takers had a lower word count and less verbatim overlap. If this is the case, why are longhand note-takers doing better on quizzes? The results suggest that while laptop note-takers may be able to write notes faster and write down most of what their professor is saying, this is not necessarily advantageous. Note-taking on a laptop seems to promote a shallower process when it comes to taking notes. This means that while a laptop note-taker types more notes, the student is not processing the information as well as they could be – specifically, they are not elaborating and making connections between pieces of material in class or to other related material. Students typing notes on a laptop tend to transcribe what a professor is saying verbatim with little thought on what is actually being written in their notes. While a verbatim account may make students feel more secure, they may leave the class feeling uncertain about what information is most important to know.
On the other hand, longhand note-takers require a deeper processing when taking notes, because students must focus on the most important information to write down when a professor is lecturing. Longhand note-taking requires more time to write and so students must pick and choose what will go into the notes, and may be forced to state ideas in slightly different language than what the professor is saying. This takes effort, unlike the mindless typing that comes from laptop notes. We know from memory research that “desirable difficulties,” those learning strategies that feel harder, slower, and more error-prone in the short term, actually provide a large memory benefit in the long run. Also, hand-writing in a notebook leads to fewer distractions in the classroom compared to the use of laptops, which come with temptations to access social media or surf the web while in class. These are scenarios that can be avoided if a notebook is brought to class instead of a laptop.
Learning should be effortful. It takes time and focus to really understand a new concept. This is why long-hand note-taking is better for a student, leads to better retention over time, particularly in preparation for assessments that involve advanced conceptual understanding. This is something to keep in mind the next time you need to decide whether to bring your laptop or notebook to class. While laptop note-taking might be easier and more convenient for the student, it may not provide a learning benefit in the long run. When it comes to note-taking, the longer, more engaging (and yes, harder) longhand may be the way to go. It may seem outdated or old-fashioned, but as this study reveals, hand-writing notes is still a beneficial skill for students.
For other articles on laptop note-taking verses longhand note-taking visit:
(1) Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25, 1159-1168.