WORKPLACE / SEP. 15, 2014
version 2, draft 2

Studies Show Digital Note-Taking Hurts Your Ability to Remember

In a study done by Psychological Science, a journal for the Association of Psychological Science, researchers found that students who take notes by hand tend to remember their lectures and tasks better than those who took notes digitally on a laptop or on their smartphone.

While efficient and a little easier on the muscles in our hands, taking notes on a laptop or through apps like Evernote hurts our ability to remember important information because of all the opportunity for distraction. Things like Facebook and Twitter aren’t helping the case for digital notes. 

Even though some schools and universities are considering allowing students to use laptops that are disconnected from the Internet, many studies found that a key problem lies in the fact that students who type out notes tend to transcribe them word for word--meaning they aren’t processing the information in a way that makes it memorable or relatable to their brains.

Because writing is a far slower process than typing, we have to carefully choose what to write in order to produce effective and understandable notes that we can study later. Transcribed notes are far harder to study than those that have been translated into layman’s terms.

These studies are also showing that students who use laptops in class, both connected and disconnected from the Internet, don’t do as well academically as students who stick to pen and paper. Plus, students who rely more on laptops and tablets tend to be unhappier with their education experience.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Pam Mueller, a psychology graduate from Princeton, commented:

"We don’t write longhand as fast as we type these days, but people who were typing just tended to transcribe large parts of lecture content verbatim... The people who were taking notes on the laptops don’t have to be judicious in what they write down.”

Mueller also states in her article,

"The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning."

While laptops may be a convenient way to take notes and store data as students move through their academic careers, technology isn’t a cure-all for the classroom. We’re beginning to see the boundaries within which laptops and computers can help us before they start to hinder our ability to learn and remember information.

What do you think? Did you use a laptop or tablet in college? Do you feel like it hurt your ability to digest or remember information? If you’re a teacher, have you considered allowing students to use laptops in your classroom?

Creative Commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by A&M-Commerce.

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