Put away your iPad – taking notes by hand is far more effective

Why pen and paper is still more effective than an iPad...

Attention students, or anyone prone to taking boardroom notes on an iPad, new research shows there’s a far more effective way of taking notes.  

Sure, typing is certainly faster, but it turns out there are still advantages to doing things the old-fashioned way.

Walk into any university lecture theatre and you can expect to see a wall of laptop lids and iPads, with students’ eyes peering over them rather than hearing the sound of pens rapidly scrawling across sheets of paper.

Past research has demonstrated that laptops can be a distraction, but until now, no research has compared how using computers changes the way students take notes compared to writing on paper.

A new study has in fact now found that on factual recall questions, the students performed equally well no matter how they took their notes but for conceptual questions the students using the laptops performed worse. The students writing longhand wrote fewer words but scored better when tested on what they’d learned. 

The key idea here is that when a person is taking notes, the processing that occurs will improve learning and retention. 

In a follow up study, the researchers informed the students not to type word-for-word notes, with the hope that this would negate the negative effect of using the laptops; but this verbal reminder proved to have no effect whatsoever on the students’ performance. 

In a final follow up, the researchers tested whether the more detailed notes compiled by the students using laptops enabled the students to be more successful if they were given ten minutes to revise their notes, one week after listening to the lecture. Yet again, the students who wrote their notes out longhand performed better than students who typed their notes.

For those who remember writing all their schoolwork on lined pads of lined paper, who fussed over finding the perfect new pencil case at the start of term, or whose only access to a computer was the shared library obne with an outdated version of Encarta, this might come as no surprise – the old-fashioned way really is best. 

But whether students really start migrating back to pen and paper is another matter… 

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