Laptop vs. Longhand: The Benefits of Handwritten Notes
Laptop vs. Longhand: The Benefits of Handwritten Notes
PUBLISHED: Friday, September 12, 2014 by Katy McDowall

There’s little use denying technology’s importance in the classroom. Students and teachers can collaborate with ease, and students can access a wealth of information with one click. All the same, laptops and tablets in the classroom have been the source of some debate, namely because of their propensity to cause distraction. Games, social media, and other activities can oftentimes be more popular than typing notes. And even when laptops are being used for note taking, a recent study in Psychological Science found that typing doesn’t serve students as well as old-fashioned longhand. For someone who has long been torn between the two note-taking strategies (and has often fallen victim to spending more time on Facebook than paying attention), I found the results interesting. 

Researchers performed three experiments in which college students watched 15-minute TED talks and either took notes by hand or on a laptop that was disconnected from the Internet (to avoid distractions). The participants were then tested on the lectures after 30 minutes—or, in one experiment, after a week and a short study session.

The results were the same: laptop users took more notes than those who wrote by hand. But students who wrote out their notes performed better because they paraphrased concepts into their own words, remembering more of the lecture. Students who used laptops were more likely to type out the lecture verbatim, “thus hurting learning.” Even when participants in the second experiment were told not to type verbatim, it did nothing to “prevent this deleterious behavior.”

The problem for laptop users? They may be able to take down notes faster than writing by hand, but they do not process as much information. Longhand note takers have to take more care in selecting what to include in their notes because it’s harder to keep up with what’s being said in a lecture than when typing. For both types of note takers, more notes can be beneficial, but not when "mindlessly transcribing content."