Study: Notebook Computers Aren't the Best Way to Take Notes

Technology solves a lot of problems but handwritten notes might be better for retention.

In the race to fill classrooms with notebook computers, tablets and electronic devices of all shapes and sizes, tried-and-true study methods are still hanging on.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a new study suggests that using old-fashioned pen and paper to take notes is more effective than using a notebook computer keyboard, despite the latter's speed advantage.

The study, conducted by University of California, Los Angeles, psychology professor Daniel M. Oppenheimer and Princeton University graduate student Pam Mueller, compared students’ fact retention when taking notes either by hand or on a computer.

The team also wanted to gauge the likelihood that students would revert to verbatim note taking when using notebook computers, a less effective means of retaining facts, the report claims.

By the end of a lesson, students who used notebook computers had taken twice as many notes as peers who used pen and paper. But a surplus of notes didn't double computer users' retention of facts: Both the notebook computer users and the traditional note takers had similar scores when tested on lecture material. Typists who took prodigious notes did, however, fall behind when tested on the conceptual components of the material.

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, reached a similar conclusion when they evaluated whether the presence of notebook computers influenced the conduct of students who did not have the devices.

Though the computers didn't have a significant impact on the students who used pens and paper, students who took their notes by hand did score significantly higher on a related exam than notebook users did.

Notably, the notebooks in Oppenheimer and Mueller's study were disconnected from the Internet. Notebook computer users’ scores may have dropped further if the allure of the Web was taken into consideration during the study.

Recent research by faculty members from McMaster University and York University suggests that notebook computers encourage multitasking, which in turn reduces the attention paid to lessons and eventually results in lower test scores.

Oppenheimer and Mueller's report, "The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note-Taking," will be published in an upcoming edition of Psychological Science.

Apr 03 2014