Bad news, laptop lovers: Even if you use your computer strictly for taking notes, you might be learning less than those who take notes by hand. As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, researchers from UCLA and Princeton recently found that laptop note-takers performed worse on a quiz designed to measure fact recall and ability to apply concepts just 30 minutes after the presentation was over. So, in this increasingly digital age, this means... we're screwed?
What explains this diminished performance as compared to participants who took notes by hand? The researchers hypothesize that, since recording information via laptop is quicker and easier, users tend to just transcribe what they hear. This "signals less encoding of content" than when the note-taker exercises judgment in writing down only some things she hears: in other words, laptop note taking tends to be kind of mindless, whereas writing things by hand forces you to think about them as you go.
In fact, writing notes by hand remains more effective even when laptop note-takers are specifically warned not to unthinkingly transcribe the presentation verbatim. Did our moms warn us about this advantage of writing things by hand when we went to college? I think they did. Score one for common sense!
And, of course, in real-world conditions, people are rarely able to resist the pull of Internet temptations like social media and those alluring listicles. Participants in this study were using laptops with the Internet disabled, to isolate the effects of the note-taking method. But it's hard to limit oneself in that way, and few students consistently succeed. Their laptop use is distracting to college instructors, too — some of whom have had to ban laptops in the classroom.
So grab yourself a notebook — hipster Moleskine or plain old Mead — and try leaving your laptop at home next time you need to learn something. Oh, who are we kidding: Continue typing away.