Writing Notes “Longhand” May Enhance Learning

A study published in Psychological Science shows that students who wrote lecture notes “longhand” scored better on conceptual questions in later testing on the lecture content than students who typed notes on a laptop. In this laboratory study, students at Princeton University and the University of California-Los Angeles were given either laptops or pen and paper and instructed to take notes as they would in class, using TED talks as a surrogate for a classroom lecture.

The study found that notes written on laptops were more likely than the longhand notes to be verbatim transcriptions. This difference held even in study conditions in which the students using laptops were instructed to use their own words and to try not to write notes verbatim. The researchers suggest that the extra cognitive processing required for writing notes longhand—for example, when the note-taker selects the most important information to include in notes—may help to encode the information in the note-taker’s memory in a way that reinforces conceptual understanding.

Mueller, PA and Oppenheimer, DM (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science 25(6): 1159-1168.