Study explores student learning

Taking notes by hand increases memory retention

Published: September 25, 2015

Science & Tech Editor

The use of technology in classrooms has sparked debate over whether or not it is detrimental to the student. One study from the Association for Psychological Science, “The Pen Is Mightier than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking” by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, has found that students who use computers to take notes in class have a decreased retention of the material than students who take notes by hand using pen and paper.

Students who took notes on a laptop and copy the notes verbatim from the professor performed worse on a post-lecture test than students who took notes by hand. Handwriting notes requires more concentration since you have to condense the material and record it in a more efficient manner than when you take it on a laptop.

In short, when you handwrite notes you have to put it in your own words, and that helps with retention of the material. Matthew Reynolds, sophomore BCMB major, agreed with the assertion and said “I prefer taking handwritten notes so I only take down the pertinent information. It really helps me to understand information if I put it in my own words.” The disparity between the retention of material has to do with how you process information when taking notes.

The laptop group’s poorer performance results from issues with retention, attention and processing of information in the brain. Memory has three steps: encoding, storage and recall. Taking notes on the computer is a poorer way of encoding information than writing notes out by hand. Whereas taking notes by hands enforces better encoding and helps with storage and recall. Using a laptop can put people in a lull where they do not really focus on what they are typing.

Another hindrance for students using laptops is the Internet. The Internet provides a source for constant distraction for students. The study found that those who are allowed to use the internet freely in class performed worse on the post lecture exam. “I prefer to write notes by hand because it helps me remember it better. Plus I get less distracted than I do when on my computer,” Michael Duffy, a sophomore psychology major, said.

Professors are approaching the issue in many ways. In some classes professors have banned the use of laptops in their classroom. Doing so removes the possibility of students surfing the Internet while in class. The decision comes at the risk of infringing on student autonomy. Students should be able to choose how they wish to take notes and accept the consequences if it does not go their way. Overall the study supports that taking notes with pen and paper correlates with better performance in the class.

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