Better Learning Through (Pen-and-Paper) Technology

A new study suggests that taking notes by hand, rather than with a laptop, helps lecture attendees remember more.

What's the Latest Development?


Researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer asked college students to watch a series of TED Talks videos and take notes using either pen and paper or a laptop that was not connected to the Internet. They then quizzed the students on their understanding of the videos. The results, which were published in Psychological Science, showed that those who used the laptop for note-taking "consistently did worse at answering conceptual questions, and also factual-based ones when there was a considerable delay between the videos and testing."

What's the Big Idea?

Laptops make note-taking a little too easy, say Mueller and Oppenheimer, because they encourage the listener to transcribe the speaker's words verbatim without really hearing and understanding what is being said. Internet-enabled devices offer endless distractions that get in the way of learning, but even without the Internet, some of the laptop users weren't able to heed the researchers' specific warnings not to transcribe. This particular outcome suggests that contrary to popular belief, "laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good" by creating poor habits that are hard to break.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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