NPR: The cognitive advantages of taking notes on paper

28 May

This story on NPR suggests you will remember material better if you take notes on paper:

‘Oppenheimer and Mueller wondered if there was something about paper and the act of writing that explained this phenomenon, so they conducted an experiment.

The paper industry struggled in the past decade, but some sectors have fared better than others.
They asked about 50 students to attend a lecture. Half took notes on laptops and half with pen and paper. Both groups were then given a comprehension test.

It wasn’t even close. The students who used paper scored significantly higher than those who used laptops.

Mueller attributes this unexpected finding — published in the journal, Psychological Science — to the fact that the “analog” note takers were forced to synthesize rather than merely transcribe. It’s a phenomenon known as “desirable difficulty.”‘

Here is the abstract from the original paper:

“Taking notes on laptops rather than in longhand is increasingly common. Many researchers have suggested that laptop note taking is less effective than longhand note taking for learning. Prior studies have primarily focused on students’ capacity for multitasking and distraction when using laptops. The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”


3 Responses to “NPR: The cognitive advantages of taking notes on paper”

  1. enrique May 28, 2015 at 11:16 am #

    Another reason why I prefer print to electronic

  2. BasicallyBeyondBasic May 28, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

    After exploring various note taking strategies during my sophomore year of college, I undoubtedly believe that handwriting notes is more effective than typing them.

  3. KA June 2, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

    I am an old-school traditional hand-written note taker. It was the only way I could retain all I needed to remember as an adult learner. I am not taking online courses for grad school and I still write notes which I am certain contributes to my 4.0 GPA. At least that’s what I choose to tell myself 🙂

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