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New Study Reveals Why Students Should Not Use Laptops For Taking Notes

Yes, we know, you love using your laptops or tablets for taking down notes in class. However, it turns out that there are advantages to taking down notes in an old-fashioned way. For starters, research has shown that laptops and tablets come with the tendency for distraction.

Distractions are only a click away, and you can easily bore yourself out of a lecture and end up watching cat videos. Furthermore, another study has shown that you have to slow down when you are taking notes by hand, and this slowing does actually quite helpful in the long run.

A study was published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University, and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles work to find out how note-taking by hand or note-taking via an electronic device differ and can affect learning.

Mueller said, ‘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. The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.’

The two authors have cited that note-taking can be categorized into two ways; generative and nongenerative. Generative note-taking is ‘summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping’ whereas the nongenerative note-taking is defined as copying verbatim. Then there are two hypotheses that explain why note-taking is actually beneficial.

The first idea is known as encoding hypothesis, and it says that when a person is taking notes, ‘the processing that occurs’ helps in enhancing learning and retention. The second hypothesis is known as the external-storage hypothesis and says that you can learn by being able to look back at your notes or the notes of other people. However, because people are able to type faster than they can write; by making use of a laptop, they do tend to try and copy everything that they are hearing.

On the one hand, Mueller and Oppenheimer have to consider the question that whether the pros of being able to check out your complete, transcribed notes on a laptop would outweigh the drawbacks of not being able to process the information. On the other hand, when you are writing longhand; you have lesser information to read but have processed a higher amount of information.

For the first part, they took university students and showed them a couple of TED talks about different topics. Upon testing, they found out that people who were using their laptops were able to write a sufficiently higher number of words as opposed to those who took notes by hand. But when testing if students retained particular information, it became clear that those who had written by hand performed better. When it came to factual questions, both groups performed equally well. However, questions that called for conceptual-application showed that laptop users performed ‘significantly worse.’

For the second study that was conducted, the students were told to avoid writing verbatim if they were using laptops to take notes. Mueller said, ‘Even when we told people they shouldn’t be taking these verbatim notes, they were not able to overcome that instinct.’ The more words that the student copied verbatim, the poorer they performed on recall tests. For the external-storage hypothesis, they conducted a third study. During this, the students were allowed to consult their notes between the lecture and test. Even then, students who had taken notes by hand performed better.

Mueller and Oppenheimer write, ‘This is suggestive evidence that longhand notes may have superior external storage as well as superior encoding functions.’ Mueller further said, ‘I think it is a hard sell to get people to go back to pen and paper. But they are developing lots of technologies now like Livescribe and various stylus and tablet technologies that are getting better and better. And I think that will be sort of an easier sell to college students and people of that generation.’