Longhand Note-Taking Linked to Better Academic Performance

A new article, "The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking," published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good.  The study, conducted by Pam Mueller (Princeton University) and Daniel Oppenheimer (University of California, Los Angeles), consisted of three experiments to investigate whether taking notes on a laptop versus writing longhand affects academic performance, and to explore the potential mechanism of verbatim overlap as a proxy for depth of processing.

Participants in the first experiment watched video lectures and took notes (either on a laptop or longhand), then completed distractor and memory tasks, and finally responded to both factual-recall questions (e.g., “Approximately how many years ago did the Indus civilization exist?”) and conceptual-application questions (e.g., “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?”) about the lecture and completed demographic measures.  Note-taking method did not affect performance on factual-recall questions, but laptop participants performed significantly worse on conceptual-application questions.  Mueller and Oppenheimer explain that "Participants using laptops are more likely to take lengthier transcription-like notes with greater verbatim overlap with the lecture. Although taking more notes, thereby having more information, is beneficial, mindless transcription seems to offset the benefit of the increased content, at least when there is no opportunity for review."

Study 2 replicated Study 1 but some students were instructed not to take verbatim notes in order to determine whether a simple instructional intervention could reduce the negative effects of laptop note taking.  As in Study 1, long-hand participants performed better at conceptual application questions.  Scores for those laptop participants instructed not to take verbatim notes "did not significantly differ from those for either laptop-nonintervention (p = .91) or longhand (p = .29) participants."  This suggests that while laptop users  record significantly more content, they may not be encoding as much information while taking notes as longhand writers are.

To test whether having the opportunity to study one's notes would help laptop users encode more information, the researchers replicated the study a third time, using a 2 (laptop, longhand) × 2 (study, no study) design.  "We also continued to investigate whether there were consistent differences between responses to factual and conceptual questions, and additionally explored whether the note-taking medium affected transfer of learning of conceptual information to other domains."  Participants were tested on facts, seductive details, concepts, same-domain inferences (inferences), and new-domain inferences (applications).  "Across all question types, there were no main effects of note-taking medium or opportunity to study. However, there was a significant interaction between these two variables. Participants who took longhand notes and were able to study them performed significantly better than participants in any of the other conditions."

The authors conclude that
"laptop use can negatively affect performance on educational assessments, even—or perhaps especially—when the computer is used for its intended function of easier note taking. Although more notes are beneficial, at least to a point, if the notes are taken indiscriminately or by mindlessly transcribing content, as is more likely the case on a laptop than when notes are taken longhand, the benefit disappears. Indeed, synthesizing and summarizing content rather than verbatim transcription can serve as a desirable difficulty toward improved educational outcomes."

Read more:
Frederique Laubepin


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  2. As Mueller and Oppenheimer explain that participants using laptops are more likely to take lengthier transcription-like notes with greater verbatim overlap and that is really help in improving the listening skills that is one of the most important thing in verbatim transcripts that make it more accurate.

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  4. a verbatim transcription actually includes every repeated word, every 'um' and 'erm', all those 'filler' phrases like 'you know' and 'know what I mean' that may be repeated a hundred times in one interview or meeting, and can also include pauses, coughs, throat clearing etc. if required. Needless to say, this takes longer. If the transcriptionist can filter out all this stuff the transcript will be completed more quickly and therefore cost less.