Laptop Note-Taking leads to “Shallower Cognitive Processing” than Manual Notes

Pam Mueller

Pam Mueller

Taking notes by hand was associated with better factual and conceptual understanding and recall than capturing content on a laptop computer, reported Princeton’s Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA.

Mueller and Oppenheimer differentiated two types of note-taking:

  • G Michael Pressley

    G Michael Pressley

    Nongenerative Note-taking, identified by verbatim copying from dictated content.
    This strategy is 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.

Virpi Slotte

Virpi Slotte

More “superficial” information processing is linked to less accurate text comprehension, found University of Helsinki’s Virpi Slotte and Kirsti Lonka.
Shallow processing also is associated with less integrative and conceptual understanding, reported Clemson University’s Brent Igo, Roger Bruning of University of Nebraska, and Victoria University’s Matthew McCrudden.

Kirsti Lonka

Kirsti Lonka

Participants viewed 15-minute TED Talks or recorded lectures.
Meanwhile, volunteers recorded notes on a laptop computer or in handwriting.
Volunteers then completed two 5-minute distracter tasks and a reading span task to assess working memory.

Roger Bruning

Roger Bruning

Thirty minutes after the lecture, participants answered questions about the content:

  • 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?”

Mueller-Oppenheim Question TypesVolunteers who took notes on a laptop were more likely to record verbatim notes and showed poorer performance on factual-recall questions and conceptual-application questions.

Even when participants were told to “take notes in your own words and don’t just write down word-for-word what the speaker is saying,” laptop users recorded more verbatim notes than manual note-takers, and their comprehension performance did not improve.

Matthew McCrudden

Matthew McCrudden

Daniel Oppenheimer

Daniel Oppenheimer

Findings in a similar study confirmed that people who paraphrase content demonstrate greater content comprehension, enabled by  slower processing with manual note-taking.

Taking notes on a laptop computer enables users to transcribe information at higher speeds, and 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?


©Kathryn Welds


2 thoughts on “Laptop Note-Taking leads to “Shallower Cognitive Processing” than Manual Notes

    1. kathrynwelds Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Megan.
      Anyone who’s taken online courses with on-screen slides knows the challenge of toggling between taking notes on a laptop and viewing on-screen content.
      As you mention, sometimes the classic method of note-taking is both more practical *and* more effective for recall and deeper understanding.


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