Is the pen mightier than the keyboard? Based on a recent study, when it comes to notetaking in class, the answer to this question might be “yes.” In their 2014 article on student notetaking, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer compared students who took handwritten notes with those who used a laptop. Their findings, which held over several different experimental settings, indicate that longhand notes lead to better learning. (U-M users can get the full article here.)
In tests given immediately after a lecture, recall of factual information was equal for both modes of notetaking. However, students remembered significantly greater amounts of conceptual information after taking handwritten notes. When tests were delayed by a week (a situation that more closely mirrors a classroom setting), the hand-writers performed significantly better on both factual and conceptual test questions.
Mueller and Oppenheimer explain that, although laptop notetakers record significantly more words, they do so in a verbatim fashion, without much cognitive processing. Those who write by hand can record fewer words and therefore must synthesize and summarize, rather than simply transcribe, the lecture. When tests occur immediately, capturing a large amount of verbatim information leads to good factual recall, but less ability to retain concepts. However, the shallow processing that characterizes laptop notetaking seems to be detrimental in the long run for both factual and conceptual recall.
These findings could well be counterintuitive for students who feel better able to follow lectures by typing notes. Especially given the large body of research showing the power of technology to distract students, instructors might want to proactively help students maximize the usefulness of technology while minimizing its potentially negative effects. Here are some suggestions: