A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop

Students who used longhand remembered more and had a deeper understanding of the material, in new research elegantly explained by Cindi May:

Research by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer demonstrates that students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more.

Half of the students were instructed to take notes with a laptop, and the other half were instructed to write the notes out by hand.  As in other studies, students who used laptops took more notes.  In each study, however, those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops.

The temptation of laptop internet access also provides a huge distraction in many cases:

In most typical college settings, however, internet access is available, and evidence suggests that when college students use laptops, they spend 40% of class time using applications unrelated to coursework, are more likely to fall off task, and are less satisfied with their education.  In one study with law school students, nearly 90% of laptop users engaged in online activities unrelated to coursework for at least five minutes, and roughly 60% were distracted for half the class.

Technology offers innovative tools that are shaping educational experiences for students, often in positive and dynamic ways.  The research by Mueller and Oppenheimer serves as a reminder, however, that even when technology allows us to do more in less time, it does not always foster learning.  Learning involves more than the receipt and the regurgitation of information.  If we want students to synthesize material, draw inferences, see new connections, evaluate evidence, and apply concepts in novel situations, we need to encourage the deep, effortful cognitive processes that underlie these abilities.  When it comes to taking notes, students need fewer gigs, more brain power.

Read the whole thing.

Personally, I’ve found that the best classes provide all the detailed information you need in textbook or PowerPoint format, and then let you take notes on more conceptual, explanatory, or synthetic topics — without having to strain to get all the material recorded.  My own gut feeling is that typing on a keyboard — thought faster than handwriting — demands more of your brain than handwriting and therefore somewhat blocks synthetic and conceptual thought.  For example, I notice that I stop typing when I’m thinking hard, and then I put in a burst of typing to record the words that I just formulated in my head.  Bottom line: use technology to leverage your mind, not to distract it.


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1 Response to A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop

  1. Pingback: LA Schools Realize Giving Every Kid an iPad Was a Costly Disaster, Will Give Every Kid a Laptop Instead | MechanizedIntelligence

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