As laptops have become one of those things everyone has – and, as they’ve gotten smaller and more compact, something everyone has in their bag – students have started bringing them to classes. They use them (presumably) to take notes as a teacher or professor gives a daily lecture. If your professor talks quickly and passes on a ton of information this method can be particularly helpful, since most people nowadays can type far faster than they can write.

It turns out, though, that there are some significant advantages to doing things the old way.

For one thing, laptops are more distracting. During a boring lecture (or even one that’s not), access to other apps, games, email, and social media tempt students into tuning out the professor in favor of their friends and the Internet.

And that’s not all.

In a recent study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA sought to test how note-taking by hand and by computer affects learning.

“When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

Universal Pictures

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

These ways of thinking fall into two categories: non-generative (summarizing) and generative (copying verbatim). There are basically two reasons why people take notes – the first is the idea that, while doing so, “the processing that occurs” will improve “learning and retention” (encoding hypothesis). The second is, of course, that when we go back and read over our notes to study we learn to retain the information (external-storage hypothesis). 

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