Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why You Should Take Notes By Hand — Not On a Laptop

Vox reports on a study comparing taking notes by hand versus using a laptop:

For the first study, the students watched a 15-minute TED talk and took notes on it, then took a test on it half an hour afterward. Some of the test questions were straightforward, asking for a particular figure or fact, while others were conceptual, and asked students to compare or analyze ideas.

The two groups of students — laptop users and hand-writers — did pretty similarly on the factual questions. But the laptop users did significantly worse on the conceptual ones:

The problem appears to be that the laptop turns students into stenographers, people who write down everything they hear as quickly as they can. Students who take handwritten notes, however, try to process the material as they are writing it down so that they only have to write down the key ideas. Forcing the brain to extract the most vital information is actually when the learning happens.The laptops resulted in worse learning even under the study conditions when they were actually used to take notes. In the real world, the laptops are a tempting distraction. I am reminded of the day my son came to my class. He sat in the back and afterwards he said “Dad, I can see why you are so interested in online education. Half of your students are online during your class already.”
(via Alex Tabarrok)


  1. There are also several types of Notes you can use:
    1. Classic Outline

    2 Column Notes 1. Divide paper into 1/3 - 2/3.
    2. Use Left 1/3 for Main Idea.
    3. Use Right 2/3 for details

    Indent to your heart's delight. With 2 column notes, you can fold the page over and look at your Main Ideas and see if you can remember the Details. Or, you can look at the Details and see if you can remember the Main Idea.

    Nice Post, RW.


  2. I've always suspected this, good to see it confirmed by some research.

    When I was an "older" student, going to college at night while working during the day in the late 90's I happened to catch some of the early adopters of laptops in classrooms and decided to try it myself once and hated it.

    There's no question that writing notes for me was far more effective in my ability to both process and retain.

    So even now, my wife and I insist our homeschooled girls write everything out by hand and type up the final draft after all the mental work has been done. The whole process of putting pen to paper versus banging away on keys seems to be more effective in terms of learning(to me). No spell check & it slows down the process and allows time to better organize both physically & mentally, which I think is important in the learning process.

    Now that being said, here at work I bang away on keys all day because it's far more productive, but I'm not here to "learn"(for the most part), I'm here to make money and maximize my time.