Interesting report on NPR this morning about the resurgence of handwritten notes compared with digital inputting. It turns out that we can remember information better when it’s in a tangible, paper form.
Two researchers conducted an experiment. They asked about 50 students to attend a lecture. Half took notes on laptops and half with pen and paper. Both groups were then given a comprehension test. The students who used paper scored significantly higher than those who used laptops. The finding was published in the journal Psychological Science.
“Our new findings suggest that even when laptops are used as intended — and not for buying things on Amazon during class — they may harming academic performance,” says psychological scientist Pam Mueller of Princeton University, lead author of the study.
“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently,” the researchers write.
Surprisingly, the researchers saw similar results even when they explicitly instructed the students to avoid taking verbatim notes, suggesting that the urge to do so when typing is hard to overcome. The researchers also found that longhand note takers still beat laptop note takers on recall one week later when participants were given a chance to review their notes before taking the recall test.
Once again, the amount of verbatim overlap was associated with worse performance on conceptual items. Mueller suggests that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning. Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture.
Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information. Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention. When typing students can easily produce a written record of the lecture without processing its meaning, as faster typing speeds allow students to transcribe a lecture word for word without devoting much thought to content.
Other studies have shown that in typical college settings, students using laptops spend 40% of class time using applications unrelated to coursework, are more likely to fall off task, and are less satisfied with their education. In one study with law school students, nearly 90% of laptop users engaged in online activities unrelated to coursework for at least five minutes, and roughly 60% were distracted for half the class.
Other research has implications for memory in the digital age. A 2014 study found that readers using a Kindle were significantly worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story.
Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, a lead researcher on the study, thought academics might “find differences in the immersion facilitated by the device, in emotional responses” to the story. “The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, i.e., when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.”
And finally another Norwegian study gave 72 10th-graders texts to read in print, or in PDF on a computer screen, followed by comprehension tests. The researchers found that “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally.”