For many people, taking notes on a laptop is faster and more legible than scribbling furiously with a pen.
But U.S. scientists have found the modern method could be harmful to academic performance as laptops encourage ‘mindless transcription’.
They found that students putting pen to paper displayed a better grasp of concepts that they had just learned, than their peers who took notes on laptops.
Psychological researchers set out to find out whether students using laptops to type notes were able to summarise and transcribe effectively to absorb and process new information – or whether they just type as fast as they can.
In one experiment, Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA studied college students in classrooms where some used laptops and others traditional notebooks.
They listened to the same lectures and employed their usual note-taking strategy to record important information and were then tested on the material covered in the talk half an hour later.
The researchers were most interested in examining the students’ ability to recall facts and concepts to display a deeper understanding of a topic, Ray Herbert reported for the Association for Psychological Science.
Dr Mueller and Dr Oppenheimer discovered that the students using laptops were more likely to take more notes than those using a pen.
But they were also more likely to simply write down what was said in a ‘mindless transcription’.
Both groups of students memorised around the same amount of facts from the lecture, but those using laptops did not display as deeper an understanding as those using pens when asked about ideas behind the facts half an hour later.
The duo were intrigued whether the results rang true over a longer period of time, after people had internalised new ideas and facts.
To delve deeper, the same experiment was conducted but students were told in advance that a test on the lecture would take place a week afterwards so there would be a chance to revise key facts and concepts from the notes taken.
The scientists found that students who took hand written notes scored higher in the test and were better able to study than other students who typed their notes.
The results of the two experiments suggest that taking notes with a pen instead of a laptop lead to higher quality learning in the first place and that writing is a better strategy for storing and internalising ideas in the long-term, leading to better performance in exams.
It appears that typing leads to mindless processing of information, while writing makes a person express information in their own words.
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