Is The Pen Mightier Than the Keyboard?

By on Nov 2, 2018 in Blog, Latest 2018 |

Longhand v. Laptop Note Taking

In order for students to be academically successful, they need to be able to learn the material presented in their courses and perform well on exams.  With the nearly ubiquitous adoption of the use of digital devices for delivery of educational material and, in many situations, notetaking as well as the completion of assignments, the question of which is a more effective methodology for learning is of great import.

Dr. Pam Mueller & Dr. Daniel Oppenheimer published a paper in 2014 sharing the results of their research into this topic.  Their study was the first to focus on a direct comparison of the two styles of notetaking.  Other research has focused on the impact of the many distractions available on laptops and how well students could multitask.  Many researchers have shown that students tend to not be on task and to be less satisfied with their education than their pen wielding peers.

Let’s take a look at the head to head comparison of college student’s comprehension retention abilities when offline laptops and pen and paper  were the only options for notetaking during presentations.

In the past, some research showed that the processing of the information that takes place during manual notetaking improves learning and retention.  When a student takes notes during a lecture, s/he cannot keep up with the presenter so must sort and organize the material, as well as abbreviate it in order to record it.  Note taking can include summarizing, paraphrasing, and mapping concepts.  It can also take the form of creating a verbatim transcript of what is heard.  Other studies have shown that verbatim note taking predicts poorer performance than non-verbatim note taking, especially on integrative and conceptual items.  Integrating the new information with prior knowledge and with understanding new concepts are both improved when the note taker processes and records the information without taking a verbatim approach.

In this current study, it was repeatedly noted that students using laptops strongly tended to take more notes, and to take notes in the verbatim copyist style, rather than processing the information and creating their own re-presentation of it like the students taking notes longhand.  It was found that the students who took notes longhand and were afforded an opportunity to study them performed better on examination than any of the other participants.  The longhand note takers also did better than the laptop users when neither was permitted to review their notes.  Some of them even outperformed the laptop users who had been able to study their notes.

Although they recorded fewer words, those who used pen and paper outperformed their technology using peers for both conceptual and factual questions.  Selecting more important information to record may have enabled them to study the material more efficiently.  They concluded: “Although more notes are beneficial, at least to a point, if the notes are taken indiscriminately or by mindlessly transcribing content, as is more likely the case on a laptop than when notes are taken longhand, the benefit disappears.  Indeed, synthesizing and summarizing content rather than verbatim transcription can serve as a desirable difficulty toward improved educational outcomes…. For that reason, laptop use in classrooms should be viewed with a healthy dose of caution; despite their growing popularity, laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good.”

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