How should you decide whether to handwrite your notes or take digital records of class? There are very reasonable pros and cons for both of these methods. As you adjust to a new semester experiment with your note taking technique and keep these things in mind as you evaluate which is best for your unique learning style.
There’s no doubt digital communication methods are becoming the standard in our technology age, however there are some advantages to sharpening your No. 2 pencil. In their study “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard,” Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer’s research demonstrated that students who write out their notes on paper do increase short-term and long-term memory retention. This research also indicated stronger conceptual understanding and more success at applying material than those who used laptops.
As you handwrite notes you summarize in order to keep up. This practice engages the brain to listen, digest and synthesize information, which leads to a more in-depth knowledge of material. Also, a pen and paper offer far less distracting applications than a laptop, pointing your focus to the classroom discussion.
Finally, handwritten notes allow customization of non-text notes (graphs & illustrations of concepts), physically drawing these demonstrations is an impressionable cognitive action that is much easier to recall when needed.
The success of the digital age comes with a ‘faster is better’ mentality. No doubt handwritten notes can be slow and cumbersome, especially if you have classes that require you to take a lot of notes quickly.
Furthermore, Rowan Kunz from StudyTV argues that study notes need to be a living document, constantly adapting and improving with additions to depth and quality. It is difficult to reformat or add to handwritten notes without completely rewriting them.
Also, as class time marches on, more often than not your notes will become harder and harder to read. Notes with illegible handwriting are not a helpful studying tool.
An obvious advantage of typed notes is that most people can type much faster than they can write and these notes will always be easy to read. But what are the deeper benefits of typing your notes?
Using a computer to take notes does allow for more flexible formatting, such as using bullets for organization or colors for highlighting key concepts. Digital note taking also makes it very easy to add, change and delete any items you may miss or want to expand on later. Because you are able to type quickly and keep up with professors’ teachings, you may be able to record more specific details of lecture content. And unlike your hand, the keyboard never gets tired so the notes will remain clear and easy to read no matter how long or how many classes you may have.
While typing may be more efficient, writing is a more refined skill that continues to improve with practice. Unlike the methods of writing class notes, you will not have to summarize or synthesize the information in a way that would promote the absorption of a more in-depth understanding of class material. Should you chose to type your notes you may be more inclined to mindlessly record verbatim the words of the talking human at the front of the classroom. In addition, digital note content is more easily accessed; therefore it requires less of the mental work that would usually support cognitive learning.
Oh, and we cannot forget the reason that your professor may not allow personal computers in the classroom. Laptops do present the temptation to use other unrelated applications during class time, which for obvious reasons is prohibitive to a productive learning environment.
- If you choose to type, draft more summative notes rather than verbatim.
- Do both! Handwrite notes during class, then go back and type them later. This allows for reprocessing and use of your own word choice. Or type notes in class then go back and write the notes later as you prepare for an exam. At this time you can organize information in your own way while making a cognitive impression.
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