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Laptop Note taking Versus Handwriting Note Taking


By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

Years ago, most of us listened to our teachers and took notes in each class utilizing pen (or pencil) and paper (in marble or spiral notebooks, or in loose leaf binders). In today’s world, laptop computers have become most popular for note taking, especially for college students who carry these laptops to their classes. A background noise of keyboard striking is evident as professors carry on in large lecture format. Which method is better for learning and retention? You might find the research results surprising! 

Studies conducted at several universities found that students who took handwritten notes generally outperformed students who typed their notes on a laptop computer. The act of handwriting helped the students to learn better, remember the information longer, and more readily understand new ideas. How can this be? Taking notes by hand is a dynamic process and excites the brain. By carefully listening to a lecture, you are more discriminating, and that determines what you then transform into meaningful words on paper. In contrast, those students who listen to a lecture and use their laptops for notes seem to copy, verbatim, what they hear. They don’t discriminate, and therefore their notes are longer. Laptop users can type 33 words per minute vs. the 22 words per minute of hand-writers. Are more notes better? Not necessarily, the research shows. In a study done at Washington University (St. Louis) in 2012 in the Journal of Educational Psychology, laptop note takers did better on a test immediately given after class. However, just 24 hours later, the computer note takers forgot the information. The copious notes they had taken did not help them to retain information. By typing everything the professor said, there was much superficial information that became confusing after a short period of time. Those, however, who took notes by hand remembered the class material longer, and better understood the core concepts because they were more discriminating in the notes they took. Their notes made more sense and were organized in a more efficient manner. This was due to the fact that they listened, thought, and then wrote. So, more notes are not better! This research was replicated in experiments at Princeton University (Prof. Pam Mueller) and UCLA (Prof. Dan Oppenheimer) and was published in 2014 in the Journal of Psychological Science. Listening, thinking, digesting, and writing fewer words might promote learning. 

It is ironic that the ability to quickly take more notes via typing actually impedes the long term learning and memory process. When students were warned by their professor to listen carefully and not merely type verbatim notes, they couldn’t help themselves. It is very difficult to break the habit of typing everything you hear, even when told that it might hurt test performance at a later date. 

These results are important for students to heed. As computers are utilized more and more in the classrooms of younger and younger students, hand writing skills for learning, understanding, and retaining course concepts should be promoted as well.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at



One Response to “ Laptop Note taking Versus Handwriting Note Taking ”

  • Dinah

    I am so excited to share this with my kids! I always encouraged the note taking over the use of technology but I didn’t have the research to back me up…now I do! Thanks, Maxine…

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