The options for technology in the classroom have exploded, but one question that continues to pop up is whether students should use technology to take notes.
Taking Notes By Hand May Be Better Than On A Computer.
In their first experiment, taking notes by hand led to greater performance on the conceptual questions relative to taking notes on the laptop computers. Those who took notes using the laptop computer were essentially transcribing the TED talks during note-taking. The researchers noted that when students have to take notes by hand, they are forced to put the information into their own words and decide what is most important due to limitations in writing speed. We typically can type much faster than we can write, and so when typing notes, it is much easier to simply type everything. Writing notes by hand encourages processing of the information that is good for learning.
To address this, Mueller and Oppenheimer conducted another experiment. In this experiment, some of the students who were typing their notes were given explicit instructions; students in this group were told not to transcribe what they were hearing, and were asked to put the notes into their own words. The special instructions reduced some of the transcribing during note-taking compared to the “normal” typing group; however, they still wrote more content than those who were taking notes by hand. On the assessment, the group who took their notes by hand performed the best.
Not So Fast! The Research On Note-taking Is Nuanced.
To try to understand all of these differing results, Luo, Kiewra, Flanigan, and Peteranetz conducted an experiment during which students watched a lecture related to an actual college course they were taking. Students either took notes on a laptop or by hand during a lecture. Some students were then given the opportunity to review their notes before an assessment test. This created four conditions (laptop no review, laptop with review, longhand no review, longhand with review). During the assessment, the researchers measured learning on text content and on visual content.
The researchers found an interaction, which means that the effect of note-taking medium depended on whether students had an opportunity to review their notes before the assessment. When the students had the opportunity to review their notes, they generally performed better on the assessment if they took notes by hand than by a laptop. This was especially true on the visual component of the assessment. However, when they were not able to review their notes, the two methods of taking notes led to very similar performance. Those who took notes with the laptop performed slightly better than those who took notes by hand, but these differences are not statistically significant.
What Does All Of This Mean?
All of this being said, it is extremely important to remember that students in these experiments were disconnected from the internet, and thus distractions from their email or social media were completely eliminated. If we introduced distractions from email or social media into the mix, learning would almost certainly go down for the typing group (see Five Teaching and Learning Myths by Brown & Kaminske). As much as we may try to reduce tech distractions in the classroom, complete elimination of this type of distraction is not always possible in real life learning situations. Thus, taking notes by hand may still be the way to go!
By Megan Sumeracki, @DrSumeracki