Note-taking: By Hand or by Computer?

James Doubek:

In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how notetaking by hand or by computer affects learning.

“When people type their notes they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

Mueller and Oppenheimer cited that notetaking can be categorized two ways: generative and nongenerative. Generative notetaking pertains to “summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping,” while nongenerative notetaking involves copying something verbatim.

And there are two hypotheses to why notetaking is beneficial in the first place. The first idea is called the encoding hypothesis, which says that when a person is taking notes, “the processing that occurs” will improve “learning and retention.” The second, called the external-storage hypothesis, is that you learn by being able to look back at your notes, or even the notes of other people.

Because people can type faster than they write, using a laptop will make people more likely to try to transcribe everything they’re hearing. So on the one hand, Mueller and Oppenheimer were faced with the question of whether the benefits of being able to look at your more complete, transcribed notes on a laptop outweighs the drawbacks of not processing that information. On the other hand, when writing longhand, you process the information better but have less to look back at.

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