Stop Slapping Those Keys and Use Your Pen

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/

A rising freshmen is visiting a college they are interested in. They sit in on a class, look around and notice something about the students. Much like the way movies portray college students, the majority of the ones in class seem to be on their laptops taking notes. There is only a small portion of students who are jotting down notes in their notebooks, as the teacher is lecturing. Recent findings have shown that people who take the time to physically write notes on a paper tend to be able to recall information better than those who take notes electronically. Guess the old fashioned way of taking notes throughout history beats new ways of taking notes on technology! People who take notes on a computer typically has more notes, in comparison to those who write.

Can it be arguably supported that students who write notes down with a paper and pen actually get more out of class lectures? In cognitive psychology, acts such as writing notes down transfers to the hippocampus, which is where information will be encoded, stored and eventually retrieved during test time. There are two different types of memories, implicit and explicit, which both work differently. Implicit memory focuses more on perception of the world around. On the other hand, explicit memory focuses on the meaning, concepts and stays in long-term memory. In a study that Mueller and Oppenheimer conducted, the notes that people on laptops took showed higher amounts of verbatim, which shows that there is a lower level of retaining the information in their memory. Both students who took notes on paper and on their laptop took a test after sitting in a lecture, for the experiment. The results showed that people who took notes by hand had more conceptual understanding and therefore learned more. The increase in conceptual comprehension in people who write notes show that they store material in their explicit memory, which is where long term memory stores information as well. Hence, there is a better chance for theses students to recall information better on tests.

Why do so many students take notes on their laptops then? People deem the use of technology as a new efficient way of recording notes. They are also able to record notes faster than by hand.  Henceforth are able to record more notes in detail. The answer may seem convincing, but overall it is best not to fall for these reasons and it is better to just switch to writing notes down.

Students who take notes by hand write slower, thereby forcing them to efficiently and mentally summarize key points of information into concise sentences or bullets. There are less levels of verbatim in their notes as a result. They are then able to encode information better and in a more meaningful way, summarizing information in their own words or chunk information in a way that is more memorable. When information is encoded with meaning, there is a better chance of later recalling the information.

With ever advancing technology in our generation today, it is most likely to be expected that not as many people will revert back to taking notes by hand. However, there is hope that people may switch from typing up notes to writing them out on their tablets or computers with a stylus. Students will still have the opportunity to write down notes, not necessarily on paper, but the effect will be the same. By handwriting notes, students can better avoid excessive information and have a higher chance in recalling information on tests.

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About mkong

I am a junior but sophomore by credit, majoring in psychology and minoring in business in hopes of going into human resources after graduation. I love singing, writing songs and dancing in my free time.

4 thoughts on “Stop Slapping Those Keys and Use Your Pen

  1. breathexeasy

    I agree. I usually always take notes by hand for these reasons, I am not against using computers for note taking, but it is something I rarely do. The old saying slow and steady comes to mind when I finished reading your blog post. Hand writing notes may take longer but the results are much more desirable then bad grades. I have not had a chance to test this out for myself, I have taken notes with a computer before, but I never stopped to think about the difference in my performance. It would be interesting to see the difference between the two note taking methods and their ability to produce better recall results on quizzes and test. It makes sense that extra encoding is occurring due to the extra effort that is needed when writing notes out by hand. Writing notes out by hand is a great skill to have; writing allows someone to be creative and controlling of their understanding. People can abbreviate and chunk information anyway that they see fit, which can aide in the assigning of meaning to information. As you said, when meaning is connected to information it is much easier to retrieve and recall from short term memory as well as from long term memory.

    1. mkong Post author

      It’s great that you don’t take notes on the laptop as often! It sounds like you have definitely heard of these facts before. I agree, slow and steady seems like an appropriate quote that applies with this study. The more time you spend on something, the better it will stay in your memory and the more meaning it may have, therefore the better chances of retrieving the information in the future. If you really care about something, in this case grades, then you will make more time for it! In this case, it applies to writing notes as well, versus typing notes. I like and agree with what you said about how writing notes lets people be creative and control their comprehension, specifically on contextual information, as was mentioned in the article link. Meaning is certainly the most important factor in getting the best results when trying to recall information. If there is no meaning when encoding information, people might as well just walk away because they will not pay attention and store it in their brains! Thank you for commenting on my blog!

  2. rachaelwiczalkowski

    Your post really fascinated me! The idea that note taking on a laptop and note taking by hand could have such different results is amazing. In my personal experience I have noticed that I remember much more information in the classes where I take handwritten notes, so to have scientific backing is kind of cool. I recently listened to a podcast about this same topic and it really caught my attention. In the podcast, they discussed a similar study to the one you described. In this study, researchers took two groups of students and had one take notes by hand and the other take notes on their laptop. Both groups were allowed 10 minutes to review their notes and then were given a test. The test results showed that even with the 10 minutes of study time before the test, the laptop note takers did not do nearly as well as the students who hand wrote their notes on the test. The level of processing that occurs while taking hand written notes is so much deeper than the processing that occurs while taking notes on a laptop, and it does have a huge effect on learning. Your article definitely has inspired me to cut back on my laptop note taking.

    1. mkong Post author

      I’m so glad to hear that my post fascinated you! Yeah its mind blowing to process that note taking by hand has such a great impact on our way of encoding, storing and recalling information later. I have heard that kinetic learning is one of the best ways to learn because you’re actually doing an action that will be encoded with meaning, therefore I believe that is why writing down notes is more effective than just pressing buttons that pop up into words on a screen. The podcast that you mentioned sounds very interesting and is a great representation of how much of a difference it makes to write rather than type notes. I was shocked to hear that in only 10 minutes of taking notes, writing notes can still help a lot. I wonder how much statistically speaking it may help though. I believe writing notes on paper stimulates different memory and encoding processes. Thank you for commenting on my post, I’m happy to hear that this has affected you positively in your note taking style!

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