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The benefits of taking notes by hand (and leaving the laptop for later)


Danil Nevsky | Shutterstock

Daniel Esparza - published on 09/01/17

Writing -- not typing -- requires careful listening and instant decision-making about what is relevant and what is not.

In some countries, entering a classroom and running into legions of students who have traded their pencils and notebooks for laptops is quite a common sight.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that these laptops are not being used to watch anything on Netflix or for liking whatever comes across the internet during class time, but that students are indeed taking notes on them. Even if that were the case, that’s still the worst thing a student can do. Taking notes on a computer actively interferes with our ability to retain information.

According to a study conducted by psychologists Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, and reviewed by Vox in April 2016, taking notes directly on a laptop is the worst thing a student can do if he wants to learn something. Usually, students only unthinkingly type everything the teacher says. Those who take notes by hand, on the other hand, have to listen carefully and decide what is important and what is not. The reason? Generally, we cannot write fast enough as to follow everything, and this forces us to prioritize information, discriminating among details that may be irrelevant. Ultimately, this process helps us learn more — and better.

The study also revealed, after a series of experiments, that laptop users have more difficulty in answering conceptual questions, which involve the development and analysis of ideas. Students who use laptops tend to simply reproduce whatever is being said in the session. When the note-taking process is done the old fashioned way, using a pencil or pen on a sheet of paper, the need to think during class and employ an active listening process makes all the difference.

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