Which is Better for Notes: Laptops or Pen and Paper?

Whether we like it or not, we are using technology more and more for everyday tasks. All of our assignments are handed in online, we order food online, we even pay our bills online. Everything that used to be done with pen and paper is now being done on a computer. Most recently, I found out that my old high school gave a laptop out to each student. The students have to use the laptop for all their work, including taking notes. I personally don’t know how I would get through high school if I had to do that because I prefer to write by hand. This made me wonder what the reason behind giving out laptops was. Do they think that using laptops will improve the students’ scores or do they just want to be more modern?

I decided to research whether or not it’s proven that one method is better than the other, and I stumbled upon this article. According to Pam Mueller of Princeton and Dan Oppenheimer of UCLA, students taking notes by hand are more successful in retaining information. In their study, they had college students (trials ranged from 67-151 students) watch a TED talk and take notes while they were viewing. They found that the students who were using laptops wrote almost word for word what was being said, simply because people type faster than they write. Since the students using pen and paper were writing slower, they had a better understanding of the material because they had to be more selective with what they wrote down. Afterwards, the students were asked questions about the speech, and the students writing by hand performed much better. The study showed that there was a negative correlation between the amount of words written and amount of questions answered correctly.  Even after being told not to write verbatim in a second trial, many students using laptops could not resist and performed worse again. In the third and final trial, Mueller and Oppenheimer gave the students time in-between the speech and the questions to review their notes. Once again, pen and paper won. It comes down to the fact that it’s easier to type, so you’re not comprehending  what you’re hearing, you’re just writing. When you write by hand you’re subconsciously thinking about the material as you write it, because you have to pay attention to everything that’s being said in order choose the most important points.

Based on this experiment, it’s fair to say that writing by hand is more affective than typing on a laptop. I guess my old high school just wants to be technologically up to date, and didn’t bother looking into what was in the students’ best interest.






5 thoughts on “Which is Better for Notes: Laptops or Pen and Paper?

  1. dms6679

    In high school, I was never allowed to bring technology into the classroom. It was always mandatory that we hand wrote everything, and it was something that I always disliked. Now that I am in college, I began typing my notes in classes that allow it. I have definitely noticed that I have problems remembering information that I typed. I will definitely revert back writing my notes! Loved this post!

  2. Wesley Scott Alexander

    I thought this was a really interesting issue and something I have definitely wondered about. I have always preferred to take notes by hand as I found it was much easier to remember things if I wrote them than if I typed them. I had also heard that writing things makes you much more likely to remember them so I was always a proponent of this. After reading this article it only made me believe more in taking notes by hand and I definitely will continue to do so.

  3. Jacob Alexander Loffredo

    The current time we are in is so technology dependent it makes me sick. Even at Penn State I hate how every single thing that is work related is done on the computer. What happened to the times of just simply pen and paper. The studies preformed by Pam Mueller an Dan Oppenheimer were interesting but to be honest did not surprise me at all. All 3 separate trials the pen and paper beat the computer. In my lectures here at PSU I see tons of people taking notes on their laptops and since everyone sitting behind them can see exactly what they are doing I notice that many of the laptop users don’t stay concentrated. Playing games, doing other homework, and checking emails is just not the same as taking a pencil and writing down the important facts your teacher is presenting you with.

  4. Dante Labricciosa

    I attended a high school where all four years I used a laptop to take notes and study lectures on. Though you say writing makes you subconsciously think and remember material by picking out key words, I do not believe it is any more effective than writing. I do believe that laptops offer online distractions, but that is based on the will of the user. For me, when strictly using to take down notes, I feel as if the laptop was sufficient, as I was able to listen and type at the same time, instead of focusing where my pen was on the paper, trying to get in-between the lines. This study is interesting, and I would love to see statistics behind it. Though as if I feel like my computer is assisting me with lecture note taking, I also know my intuition is lousy, and science is meant to be proven wrong.

  5. Alyssa Marie Frey

    My high school also just gave laptops to every student, which I think is insane. We are becoming so dependent on technology and that is definitely shown here on campus where we have to do all of our work online for every class. If the sites go down, we go down with them and we might not be able to turn things in on time. I personally like writing my notes much more than typing them in class. My teacher in high school told us how much more beneficial it would be in college to write notes rather than type them. Like you said, this is because we listen to the information we write down more thoughtfully. However, a good way to study is to type all of your hand written notes so then you can review them and maybe have them more organized.

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