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Content analysis of the notes consistently showed that students who used laptops had more verbatim transcription of the lecture material than those who wrote notes by hand.
Thus, although laptop users may not encode as much during the lecture and thus may be disadvantaged on immediate assessments, it seems reasonable to expect that the additional information they record will give them an advantage when reviewing material after a long delay. Mueller and Oppenheimer included a study in which participants were asked to take notes by hand or by laptop, and were told they would be tested on the material in a week.
When participants were given an opportunity to study with their notes before the final assessment, once again those who took longhand notes outperformed laptop participants.
Across three experiments, Mueller and Oppenheimer had students take notes in a classroom setting and then tested students on their memory for factual detail, their conceptual understanding of the material, and their ability to synthesize and generalize the information.
Half of the students were instructed to take notes with a laptop, and the other half were instructed to write the notes out by hand.
To evaluate this theory, Mueller and Oppenheimer assessed the content of notes taken by hand versus laptop.
Their studies included hundreds of students from Princeton and UCLA, and the lecture topics ranged from bats, bread, and algorithms to faith, respiration, and economics.Despite these instructions, students using laptops showed the same level of verbatim content and were no better in synthesizing material than students who received no such warning.It is possible these direct instructions to improve the quality of laptop notes failed because it is so easy to rely on less demanding, mindless processes when typing.It appears that students who use laptops can take notes in a fairly mindless, rote fashion, with little analysis or synthesis by the brain.This kind of shallow transcription fails to promote a meaningful understanding or application of the information.In most typical college settings, however, internet access is available, and evidence suggests that when college students use laptops, they spend 40% of class time using applications unrelated to coursework, are more likely to fall off task, and are less satisfied with their education.In one study with law school students, nearly 90% of laptop users engaged in online activities unrelated to coursework for at least five minutes, and roughly 60% were distracted for half the class.If the source of the advantage for longhand notes derives from the conceptual processes they evoke, perhaps instructing laptop users to draft summative rather than verbatim notes will boost performance.Mueller and Oppenheimer explored this idea by warning laptop note takers against the tendency to transcribe information without thinking, and explicitly instructed them to think about the information and type notes in their own words.As in other studies, students who used laptops took more notes.In each study, however, those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops. Mueller and Oppenheimer postulate that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning.