Apologies to Mrs Dixon: taking notes by hand is more effective than by laptop

This surprises some people, but, when I was in grade 1, I was – just a tiny bit – precocious.

I also had terrible handwriting, a fact my long-suffering teacher seemed to relish reminding me about.  One freezing Ballarat morning, after being sent back to re-write my daily dictation words in ancient copperplate for the third time, I’d had enough of her taunts:

“No-one cares about handwriting, Miss” I squeaked. “When I grow up, I’ll just type everything.”

“You might try,” snapped Mrs Dixon, glowering like a bespectacled sun.  “But you won’t learn anything that way.  Nothing sticks when you type.  Now go back to your desk and try harder.”

Full of seething rage, I only just avoided an embarrassing tantrum.  But, for some reason, ever since, I’ve written all my notes by hand.  Even as a mature-age student, surrounded by iPad wielding twenty-somethings and laptop-warriors, I’ve stuck with my trusty yellow pad and pen.

And now, thirty (ahem) odd years later, I know why.

Mrs Dixon was right.

In a study just published in the April edition of Psychological Science, Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Dan Oppenheimer of UCLA conducted a series of experiments to test whether longhand note-taking was more effective than taking notes on a laptop.  They found that students who took notes by hand performed better on conceptual questions than their laptop-tapping peers.

The researchers suggest a possible explanation for their results: laptop users tend to transcribe notes word-for-word rather than processing and reframing the content of lectures in their own words.  Even when laptops are used only to take notes (and not to update their status on Facebook, gaze at pretty pictures on Pinterest or shop on Amazon), they may still impair learning because they result in shallower processing.

Of course, the other advantage of handwriting notes is more prosaic: you keep your writing motor skills tuned for performance – a handy advantage when exam time rolls around.

So thanks, Mrs Dixon.  And, in case you’re reading this:

  1. yes, I first wrote this blog by hand; and
  2. no, my handwriting hasn’t improved.  For a speech pathologist and lawyer, I still write like a doctor.

Image: http://tinyurl.com/k9but4r

David

Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.

Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language

Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.

David Kinnane
Speech-Language Pathologist. Lawyer. Father. Reader. Writer. Speaker.

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