📖The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking

Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer
  • Two hypothesis for note-taking:

    • Encoding hypothesis—we remember information while we write notes
    • Storage hypothesis—notes can be reviewed later to review material

    These hypothesis are not in conflict and can be applied simultaneously.

  • Verbatim (copying) note-taking predicts poorer performance that non-verbatim one (summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping)

Study 1:

  • 5 TED talks >15 min
  • video projected on screen
  • laptops disconnected from internet
  • participants were instructed to take notes as in class room (that might have skewed results)
  • (participants had no choice of method. can note-taking be improved with skill?)
  • next, two 5-min distracting tasks + taxing working memory task
  • no note reviews
  • Results:

    • no statistically significant difference in factual recall
    • statistically significant difference in conceptual understanding (longhand notes performed better)
    • overall, participants who took more notes performed better
    • however, participants that had less verbatim overlap with the lecture performed better as well
    • laptop note-taking produced more words and more verbatim overlap with the lecture

Study 2:

  • purpose: to learn if giving instruction not to take notes verbatim would improve things
  • participants paid $10 per 1 hour
  • monitors + headphones
  • laptop-nonintervention

    • “We’re doing a study about how information is conveyed in the classroom. We’d like you to take notes on a lecture, just like you would in class. Please take whatever kind of notes you’d take in a class where you expected to be tested on the material later—don’t change anything just because you’re in a lab.”
  • laptop-intervention:

    • “We’re doing a study about how information is conveyed in the classroom. We’d like you to take notes on a lecture, just like you would in class. People who take class notes on laptops when they expect to be tested on the material later tend to transcribe what they’re hearing without thinking about it much. Please try not to do this as you take notes today. Take notes in your own words and don’t just write down word-for-word what the speaker is saying.”
  • The intervention did not have a significant effect on either performance or extent of verbatim content

Study 3:

  • purpose: to learn if having more notes from laptop note-taking facilitates in long-term (from reviews)
  • notes were reviewed 10 minutes before the second test (in study group)
  • longhand notes with review won laptop notes on both factual and conceptual tests
  • there were not significant different between longhand/laptop notes when no review were done

My thoughts:

  • This study focuses on the lecture setting (i.e., fixed-time), so laptop note-taking produced more verbatim nodes than it could

    • In other settings the results might be different. (e.g., I took many verbatim notes in hand in the past)
  • Intervention in study 2 was not effective. Possibly due to instructions were not enough to change students’ behavior
  • Given these two facts, the study is likely to show effect of verbatim vs. non-verbatim note-taking more than laptop vs. pen in general.

    • If I understand shortcomings of verbatim note-taking I can actually change my behavior
  • over longer period of time, longhand notes showed better performance for factual recall as well

    • this is not explained by verbatim vs non-verbatim note taking

      • I think it might be explained by longhand participants building a better mental model of the topic so they could remember facts better