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taking notes

When it Comes to Taking Notes, Grab the Pen, Not the PC

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

One to One Computing: On the Rise

Is your public school student bringing home a brand-new school-issued laptop or tablet this year? Districts around the country have issued millions of these devices to students at significant expense. Research findings on these initiatives are mixed, with some studies showing positive effects on test scores, technology skills, and student engagement, and others seeing no benefit. Meanwhile, both teachers and students have complained about the risks of distraction and misuse. However, in a technology-oriented society, it seems likely that the move toward one-to-one computing, as this method is called, will continue.

Laptops can, of course, be a real blessing for students who find writing by hand to be slow or physically challenging. The typing speed that students eventually develop allows them to transcribe teachers’ words faster and more easily. This might seem like it would facilitate learning and allow for more effective studying. However, some have suggested that reality may not be quite so cut and dried.

Pen-and-Paper Note-takers Score Better

In fact, recent research on college students in the journal Psychological Science showed a strong advantage for longhand note-taking over taking notes on a computer. In several small studies, college students watched lectures, taking notes either with paper and pen or by typing on laptops. Computer-users took more notes and transcribed more material word for word–but when the students were tested, those who’d used pen and paper got better scores. This happened whether or not the students were given a chance to study their notes beforehand, and even when students were instructed not to write down lecture material verbatim. (In general, they ignored these directions.)

These researchers believe that the slower, seemingly less efficient process of translating lectures into our own words helps us remember and process material. Rapid transcription of the words being said, on the other hand, is a “shallow” process that doesn’t help as learn as well.

The Key: Rephrase and Summarize

So what does this mean for our laptop-using elementary- and middle-schoolers? (Not to mention high school and college students!) Although more research needs to be done, I take these findings as a reminder of the importance of teaching meaningful note-taking to our children. As this school year gets underway, remind your young students to translate and summarize their teachers’ instruction into their own words for deeper, longer-lasting learning.

(Photo credit: taking notes by Jimmie. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)


Mueller, P.A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop notetaking. Pyschological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168.

Sauers, N. J., & McLeod, S. What does the research say about school one-to-one computing initiatives? Retrieved from