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Sep 212014
Image of "I Am Typing" - hosted on Flickr.org under Creative Commons 2.0 license

Image of “I Am Typing” – hosted on Flickr.org under Creative Commons 2.0 license

To type or not to type….. that is a question many students are facing when thinking about taking notes during this new school year.  A new school year is a fresh start in studying habits, being organized, and a renewed commitment to the learning process.  However, with the technology age in full throttle, we may need to rethink the way our students are taking notes, so that the actual studying and learning becomes more productive.  Computers are smart, savvy, and very effective with the assistance with tasks that students must complete.  But, new research is showing that the use of a computer or tablet for note taking is actually hindering in the learning and studying process.

According to a series of lab based research, compiled by doctors at Princeton University and UCLA, the students who are writing notes in long-hand are winning academically hands down.  Long-hand you may ask?   Yes, the decreasing art of actually putting the pen or pencil to paper is showing academic superiority to those that are typing notes from lectures.  The reason…. Those that are writing in long-hand are getting more important and critical information from the lectures than those that type.

The superiority factor is not due to the fact that students are multi-tasking during lectures.  Although this would definitely impede learning, during the study WiFi was turned off, and the ability to multi-task eliminated.

The students being studied were found to take very good notes.  However, it is these good detailed notes that become part of the problem.  Too detailed and wordy notes do not eliminate unimportant information.  The students were found to have a hard time filtering through the information being given and included most of what was being said to them. Typers were found to input long verbatim quotes that were typed somewhat mindlessly, thus adding to the word count to their notes.

When it came time to retrieve information from notes, once again the long-handers were found to be superior to the typers.  Solely looking at fact retrieval, both sets of note takers were found equal.  But when asked to review notes for more in-depth studying, those that had taken long-hand notes were found more efficient and with better retrieval.  Students who are practicing taking long-hand notes were better at filtering important information and getting an in-depth summary of the broad and detailed ideas.

The students who chose the method of typing notes, showed an overwhelming common thread.  They transcribed notes indiscriminately and to a level of mindlessly.  Being disengaged with the material, made the information harder to retrieve, a problem that those who took notes using long-hand methods don’t have.  When asked to be more selective and discriminatory on the notes being taken while typing, the students showed the inability to be as productive as their long-hand counterparts.  The disconnect being seen not only shows in less conceptual understanding, but also the brain not working as efficiently while typing.

Studies involving brain scans also show the superior learning being done when writing by hand.  Handwriting engages the brain in unique ways that improve learning.  The brain and hand have a unique relationship when it comes to thoughts and ideas.

Will students volunteer to make the switch?  Probably not.  However, technology companies are working on apps that would allow for handwritten notes to be stored on tablets.  The use of smart pens is also under study, but is preliminary results that are positive.  American schools need to continue to teach long-hand methods so that our students can be successful.  This alone is a source of heated controversy.

For now, let’s encourage the parents of our students to invest in the superior learning of their child.  We should be sharing the information and research that is presented before us with administrators, parents and students.  If nothing else, the financial input is a good argument.  A spiral notebook, pen and pencil can be found for well under a dollar each.   That cannot be said for the latest technology gadgets.


Barbash, Fred. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/04/28/why-students-using-laptops-learn-less-in-class-even-when-they-really-are-taking-notes/?wpisrc=nl_pulse

Bounds, Gwendoleyn. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704631504575531932754922518?mg=reno64-wsj

Mueller, Pam and Oppenheimer, Daniel.  http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/22/0956797614524581.abstract

Sapperstein Associates. https://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2948_HW_Summit_White_Paper_eVersion.pdfCommons 2.0 license