The Psychology of Note Taking

The Psychology of Note Taking

You settle in for class, power up your laptop, and open a new document. You're all ready to start taking notes on this week's class lecture. What you might not know is that not everyone benefits from taking notes on a laptop.

While the obvious reason, distractions, is a conclusion everyone will come to almost immediately, they're not the only negative side effects of laptop notetaking. Even when students aren't shopping on Amazon or playing Overwatch, their concentration was found to be shallow compared to those who took notes by hand.

What's wrong with Taking Notes on a Laptop?

The study, The Pen is Mightier than the Laptop, gave test subjects laptops without internet and others pen and paper to take notes. The students were instructed to take notes on TED Talks. These talks contained information that was fascinating, but facts not many people would have known beforehand (in order to prevent the results being skewed by a smarty-pants who knew about the topic already).  

The students were then asked to take quizzes on the TED Talks with two types of questions. One was basic recall. What did the presenter say? Test subjects scored equally well on this section. But where the handwritten note takers shined was cognitive questions.

Laptop users had more difficulty drawing conclusions from the information than the people who took notes by hand. Basically, reciting information was fine for both types of notetaking, but it's believed that writing notes by hand led to a deeper understanding of the material and a better ability to think critically about the material presented.

What does this mean for College Students?

Think you might take notes better without your laptop? Try ditching your electronics for an old-fashioned notebook and pen to see what happens. You might not notice a massive change, but pay attention to how you process information and how you're using this information to make connections to the big picture.

It's also interesting to note that students taking notes on laptops tended to write down what the speaker was saying verbatim and the students taking handwritten notes rephrased the statements. Researchers wondered if this is what made a difference in the scores. Reworking the material is a sign of critical thinking and a deeper-than-surface understanding. It might have led to the handwritten notes students being able to think critically about the material instead of simply reciting facts.

Even when students were told not to take verbatim notes, the students writing on laptops still did. Possibly speaking to the amount of concentrating it takes to write on a laptop, verses using a pencil and paper.

So how Should I take Notes in Class?

When it comes to talking notes, studies have shown that handwritten notes help you absorb the information. However, taking notes by hand is not feasible for everyone. Some individuals experience painful writer's cramp if they write for too long and taking notes for an entire day of class is not going to work. Others, due to disability for any other reason, don't take notes by hand.

It's up to every individual student to decide for themselves what the best way to take notes. However, it's a good idea to keep in mind that, statistically, you might not be cognitively thinking about the information as deeply if you are taking notes on a laptop.

The Psychology of Note Taking

Are you ready to start taking notes again? If you're prepared to earn your degree, consider ECPI University for your education. With five different colleges, no matter your area of interest, there is a program for you. Contact an admissions counselor today to begin the conversation.

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