Ditching Technology In The Classroom

By: Christina Hunt

Taking notes on a computer is faster, more convenient and allows you to multi-task during class. Photo by Christina Hunt
Taking notes on a computer is faster, more convenient and allows you to multi-task during class. Photo by Christina Hunt

You walk into class on the first day. Everyone is setting up their laptops, checking Facebook, Pinterest, email, Tumblr, Buzzfeed, etc. Based on experience, you know there may be an occasional click over to Word or Google Docs to type a few notes. Maybe. The process of checking every form of social media will repeat in an endless cycle throughout class, and it makes you wonder if technology is actually making it harder to learn.

Your professor walks in, looks around and says he or she wants laptops, tablets and phones put away. Cue the inward groaning. If you want to take notes, you’re going to have to do it the old fashion way: with a pen and paper.

Your professor may actually be doing you a favor. Mind blowing, huh?

Studies show that note taking the traditional way is more conducive to learning, although it may be more tedious. Photo by Christina Hunt
Studies show that note taking the traditional way is more conducive to learning, although it may be more tedious. Photo by Christina Hunt

According to research published in Psychological Science in June 2014, students who write their notes on paper actually learn more. Across three experiments, researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer found that students who took notes the traditional way understood and retained more of what they learned.

Although students who used laptops took more complete and detailed notes, those who wrote their notes out by hand possessed a stronger conceptual understanding of the material and were more successful at applying and integrating the material than those who used a laptop.

The findings may seem counterintuitive. Wouldn’t you learn more if you could capture a greater amount of what your professor is teaching? Mueller and Oppenheimer believe that writing notes by hand requires different kinds of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop and that those different processes influence learning.

According to the study, because writing by hand is slower and does not allow students to write down every word in a lecture, it forces them to “listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information. Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy ‘mental living,’ and these efforts foster comprehension and retention.”

On the other hand, students who type notes are creating a near-verbatim record of the lecture without actually comprehending its meaning. So next time you’re tempted to crack open the laptop or tablet in class, take out a sheet of paper and pen instead.

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