Distractions posed by laptops in the classroom have been a common concern, but new research suggests that even if laptops are used strictly to take notes, typing notes hinders students’ academic performance compared with writing notes on paper with a pen or pencil.
Daniel M. Oppenheimer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles, and Pam Mueller, a graduate student at Princeton University, studied the effects of students’ note-taking preferences. Their findings will be published in a paper in Psychological Science called “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note-Taking.”
The researchers’ goal was to figure out whether typing notes—which is becoming increasingly popular—has any direct effect on a students’ ability to understand a lecture.
In a series of studies, the researchers provided students with laptops or with pen and paper to take notes. (The computers were disconnected from the Internet.) Students were then tested on how well they could recall facts and apply concepts. During the first test, students were told to “use their normal classroom note-taking strategy.” Some typed, and others wrote longhand. They were tested 30 minutes later.
The researchers aimed to measure the increased opportunity to “mindlessly” take verbatim notes when using laptops.
“Verbatim note-taking, as opposed to more selective strategies, signals less encoding of content,” says the researchers’ report. Although laptop users took almost twice the amount of notes as those writing longhand, they scored significantly lower in the conceptual part of the test. Both groups had similar scores on the factual test.
In another part of the study, some laptop users were instructed to avoid taking verbatim notes. Instructors explained that “people who take class notes on laptops when they expect to be tested on the material later tend to transcribe what they’re hearing without thinking about it much.” But members of that group received lower scores in both conceptual and factual tests than did their longhand counterparts.
“While more notes are beneficial, at least to a point, if the notes are taken indiscriminately or by mindlessly transcribing content, as is more likely the case on a laptop, the benefit disappears,” says the report.