Memory & Understanding: Paper versus Pixels


A study by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA has found that US college students who take notes on laptop computers are more likely to record lecturers’ words verbatim. Sounds like a good thing, but the study goes on to say that because notes are verbatim, students are therefore LESS LIKELY to mentally absorb what’s being said.

In one study, laptop-using students recorded 65% more of lectures verbatim than did those who used longhand; 30-minutes later, the laptop users performed significantly worse on conceptual questions. According to the researchers, longhand note takers learn by re-framing lecturers’ ideas in their own words.

This chimes with anecdotal evidence in the UK that some students aged around 16-18 are going back to index cards for exam revision because, as one said to me quite recently:  “stuff on screens doesn’t seem to sink in.”

Source: Sage Journals: ‘The pen is mightier than the keyboard: The advantages of longhand over laptop note taking’. See also Scientific American (Nov 2013) ‘Why the brain prefers paper.’ (summary here).

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