July 09, 2015

Putting pen to paper. Credit: Daniel Foster / Flickr Creative Commons

Picture this: You’re in a classroom, desperately typing away, trying to write down everything your droning professor says about ancient Incan bridge weavers. Then you get home that night, and can't remember a single thing he said.

According to research by Pam Mueller, a psychology graduate student at Princeton (and a big-time Jeopardy champion), you might have been better off leaving the computer at home.

She helped conduct a series of experiments that found that writing notes longhand is much better for remembering and synthesizing information than typing on a laptop.

That might seem counterintuitive, since people type notes much faster than they write them. But Mueller found that even though laptop writers were able to take more notes, they were worse at comprehending the information within those notes.

“On the conceptual application questions, the people who took notes on their laptops did significantly worse, and that this was a function of the fact that they were trying to, essentially, take verbatim notes of what the lecturer was saying," she explains. "The more verbatim notes they took, the worse they did on the test.”

Mueller's study also found that a similar problem arises when it comes to reviewing the material.

“You’d think that a laptop notetaker [would] have all this content written down, so maybe if they went back and studied it later, they’d be fine -- but we found that that wasn’t the case. We were really, really surprised by that. Even if they got the study their notes, the longhand notetakers were still doing better, so if they hadn’t encoded it at the outset, they didn’t get it back later from studying.”

So, regardless of whether technology in the classroom is good or bad, it seems as if you probably shouldn’t use devices to take notes.

As for Mueller, she’s taken her own study to heart:

“Now, when I go to conferences and things, I’m definitely taking notes in a notebook, and I really am finding that I’m remembering what the speakers said, as opposed to having this pile of words on my laptop at the end of the day.”

Education, Pam Mueller, Kara Miller, notes

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