Writer’s cramp aside, a study by Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA and Pam Mueller found that those who took notes by hand retained information and demonstrated better conceptual grasp of lecture material than those who took notes on laptops or tablets.
Because students can type significantly faster than they can write, those who use laptops in the classroom tend to take more notes than those who write out their notes by hand. Moreover, when students take notes using laptops they tend to take notes verbatim, writing down every last word uttered by their professor. Obviously it is advantageous to draft more complete notes that precisely capture the course content and allow for a verbatim review of the material at a later date. Only it isn’t.
What drives this paradoxical finding? Mueller and Oppenheimer postulate that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning. Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture. Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information. Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention. By contrast, when typing students can easily produce a written record of the lecture without processing its meaning, as faster typing speeds allow students to transcribe a lecture word for word without devoting much thought to the content.