Today’s technology can be advantageous in the classroom. Laptops and tablets allow students to engage in enhanced class activities and demonstration. They can collaborate with other students during lectures and work together on papers and projects. A sea of computers in the classroom is common place in today’s college classes. Taking notes in class on a computer can be faster and easier, but does this note taking technique facilitate better learning than traditional pen and paper?

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The practice of taking notes longhand has declined in favor as technology has made it easier for laptops to enter the classroom, but many professors and researchers are concerned that these students do not get the same learning experience. Laptops are considered to be less advantageous for learning. Some of the first studies regarding the efficacy of learning with laptops consider the possibilities of distractions. One of the key features of technology is the ability to allow the user to multitask. The student can interact with others in the classroom during the lecture, participate in activities, and take notes at the same time, but multitasking can cause too much of a distraction. The effects of participating in too many activities within the classroom were evaluated to determine if taking notes with a laptop was effective.

Two groups of students in an upper-level college communication course were used to test the theory that too much multitasking would be ineffective. One group of students were allowed to use their laptops for all of the activities they usually would during a class lecture. The other group was not allowed to use their laptops at all. After the lecture, the students were tested in order to verify the amount of information they retained. The students who were not allowed to the use their laptops fared significantly better on the test, showing that multitasking during a lecture cause a detriment to learning (Hembrooke and Gay 2003).

Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer worked to delve deeper into the computer versus pen and paper note taking dilemma. They theorized that computer based note taking is detrimental to the student for reasons that go well beyond distractions. They have determined that “even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing.” Through a series of three experiments, these researchers proved that taking notes longhand benefited the student. The students were broken into two groups, one taking notes with pen and paper and the other on a computer were tested on their comprehension.

A series of tests included both immediate and delayed timing. Ultimately it was determined that the students using the computers took verbatim notes, even when explicitly told not to, and therefore their mental processing of the information was shallower than those who were writing out their notes. Even in situations when the students were allowed to study from their notes, the students who had an accurate record of the lecture on their computer did worse on the tests than their pen and paper counterparts. This research proves that taking notes longhand is more beneficial to the student (Mueller and Oppenheimer 2014). Based on Mueller and Oppenheimer’s research, Herbert summarizes that “there is something about ink and paper that prompts students to go beyond merely hearing and recording new information—and instead to process and reframe information in their own words, with or without the aid of asterisks and checks and arrows.” (Herbert 2014)

Traditional note taking with pen and paper has become less popular than the use of computers but both methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. Computers allow the student quickly to type notes which in turn permits more complete notes. The student is able to transcribe the entire lecture, word for word which he would be unable to do if he were writing longhand. May notes, “Indeed, because students can type significantly faster than they can write, those who use laptops in the classroom tend to take more notes than those who write out their notes by hand. Moreover, when students take notes using laptops they tend to take notes verbatim, writing down every last word uttered by their professor.” More notes do not necessarily mean better notes. Students can mindlessly transcribe the lecture instead of thinking about the material and writing down the important points (May 2014).

Taking notes longhand helps students learn whether they benefit from visual, auditory or kinesthetic learning. Visual learners process information best when they can see it. Taking notes by hand can aid visual learners in ways that computerized records cannot. Handwritten notes can be highlighted, underlined and color coded. Symbols and graphs can quickly and easily be sketched into pen and paper notes. While all of these techniques can be accomplished on a computer, the physical act helps solidify the information in the brain (Illinois State University 2014).

Auditory learners learn best by listening. Handwritten notes have proven to be more concise, therefore, reading these notes aloud, recording them and listening back will ensure a more precise account of the valuable information. Kinesthetic learners are more capable of retaining new information when they are completing a physical action. Longhand note taking fulfills the need for movement more than typing does (Illinois State University 2014).

As technology changes, the practice of taking notes with pen and paper has been replaced with the speed and ease of using laptop computers. Many professors and researchers have questioned the efficacy of this technique. One study suggests that computer surfing creates distractions to the note taker. Another study proves that taking notes longhand creates a deeper level of mental stimulation. In the classroom, every learning style has proven to be compatible with the longhand note taking method. To benefit the most, combine both longhand and laptop note taking methods when reviewing notes, depending on each learning style.