Taking notes on a laptop computer may not enhance understanding and recall as much as using the old-fashioned method of taking notes by hand:
People who hand-wrote notes to retain information performed better on factual and conceptual questions about the content than those who took notes on a laptop computer, according to Princeton’s Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA.
They distinguished between two types of note-taking:
Generative Note-taking, is characterized by summarizing and paraphrasing, and related to deeper information processing and greater information encoding , according to University of Nebraska’s Kenneth Kiewra
Nongenerative Note-taking, or verbatim copying from dictated content, and associated with “shallow cognitive processing”, explained Penn State University’s Peggy Van Meter, Linda Yokoi of University of Maryland and G Michael Pressley, then of Michigan State University.
More “superficial” (shallower) information processing is linked to less accurate text comprehension, found University of Helsinki’s Virpi Slotte and Kirsti Lonka, and to lower performance on questions to assesses integrative and conceptual understanding, in findings by Clemson University’s Brent Igo, Roger Bruning of University of Nebraska, and Victoria University’s Matthew McCrudden.
To determine which note-taking techniques are associated with more robust information processing, Muller and Oppenheimer asked participants to view 15-minute TED Talks or recorded lectures while recording handwritten or laptop notes.
Next, these volunteers completed two 5-minute distractor tasks and a reading span task to test working memory.
By this time, 30 minutes had elapsed since the end of the lecture, and participants answered questions about the content focusing on:
- Factual-recall, such as “Approximately how many years ago did the Indus civilization exist?”
- Conceptual-application, like “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?”
Volunteers who took notes on a laptop were more likely to record nongenerative, or verbatim notes, and like previous findings, showed poorer performance on both factual-recall questions and conceptual-application questions.
Even when participants were explicitly instructed to “take notes in your own words and don’t just write down word-for-word what the speaker is saying,” people taking notes on laptops still recorded more verbatim notes than manual note-takers – and their comprehension performance still did not improve.
In another variation that included a week delay between the lecture and note-taking and the comprehension test, half the participants reviewed their handwritten or laptop notes for 10 minutes before the test and the other volunteers answered test questions without reviewing material.
Previous results were replicated under these conditions, suggesting that people who paraphrase content instead of recording verbatim tend to demonstrate greater content comprehension – and this advantage is enabled by the slower approach to manual note-taking.
Taking notes on a laptop computer enables users to transcribe information at higher speeds than manual note-taking, according to C. Marlin “Lin” Brown, then of Xerox, yet drawbacks include:
- Shallower information processing
- Decreased conceptual understanding
- Reduced factual recall
- Distraction in multi-tasking on email or social media
-*How do you maintain increase comprehension and retention when taking notes using a laptop computer?
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