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Handwritten notes vs. laptop notes: Does one method afford deeper learning than the other?

Antique typewrite

Apparently, yes.

HandwritingA study entitled The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014) compared the two methods in different experiments. Findings suggest that when tested for factual recall, student performance was about the same for both note-taking methods; however, students who took handwritten notes fared better when tested for conceptual learning.

I teach a course called Academic English Seminar. The course (3 credits in 39 hours over 13 days every August) is an academic skills course for incoming undergraduate students who speak English as a second language. The course is intended to support students’ transition from high school or CEGEP learning to university learning. This year, I asked students to read the Mueller & Oppenheimer study. (We used this article in order to practice strategic reading of journal articles.) Some were surprised by the study results. Some even vowed to stick to taking notes by hand.

Interestingly, one student who took my course emailed me three days into this term to say that the professor of his Organizational Behaviour course in Management had read the study and now will not allow students in his class to take laptop notes.

Typing-home-keys-hand-positionDo you teach? If you do, take a look at the study (or at an online summary of the study entitled Ink on Paper: Some Notes on Note Taking. Would you encourage your students to take handwritten notes? Why might you not encourage them to take handwritten notes?


Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1-10. DOI: 10.1177/0956797614524581

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Senior Academic Associate at McGill's Teaching and Learning Services.; former Senior Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre; area of specialization: Second Language Education; loves teaching and learning; will work for chocolate (Photo credit: Owen Egan)

2 comments on “Handwritten notes vs. laptop notes: Does one method afford deeper learning than the other?

  1. Since Plato’s Phaedrus, in which Socrates ponders on the invention and the benefits and possible dangers of writing, script is seen as a threat to memory. Of course, it is quite convincing that writing, or notetaking, as a whole reduces the use of memory. On the other hand, it is exactly the benefit of writing that it is OK and entirely unharmful to forget the things one wrote down because, well, one is always able to look it up.

    I don’t actually want my students in communication studies to memorize everything they write down. Rather I’d like them to think, and this is usually done by going through one’s notes and by slowly raising questions and building arguments. Studies like the one by Mueller & Oppenheimer may test “factural recall” and “conceptual learning” but I doubt this says much about the quality of actual assignments, such as term papers. I therefore find the idea of a someone banning laptop notetaking after reading the study hysterical, although I must say I pity the students. I personally love my keyboard and the idea of having to go through pages and pages of handwritten notes horrifies me. But be it as it may: just keep on writing.

  2. Pingback: What’s the prof gonna ask? | Teaching for Learning @ McGill University

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