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Pen vs. Keyboard: Note Taking Showdown

Lecture classes require a strategy to acquire the information and commit it to memory successfully. For some students, a laptop administers the quickest, most effective means of note-taking. However, some students firmly advocate the use of a pen and paper. Many professionals acknowledge that a laptop allows a student to record more material since one can type quicker than they can write, however, studies tend to defend the use of paper for several reasons.

A considerable amount of research and experiments prove that students excel when their notes are in physical form. According to an article from the Association for Psychological Science, “researchers found that longhand note takers beat laptop note takers on recall one week later.” In addition, access to the internet generates endless distractions for laptop users. Notifications inevitably take the attention of a student using a laptop in class.

Dr. Butterfield, an associative professor of psychology at PLNU, discussed his findings on the topic. “Research has shown that taking notes on a computer actually involves a different brain area than taking notes on paper. Not to say one is better than the other but that they’re going to do different things.” Dr. Butterfield encourages students to find the method that benefits them personally, “I think it depends student-to-student on what is going to be better.”

An online article from NPR, suggests “that when a person is taking notes, the processing that occurs will improve learning and retention.” The extra time a student spends writing out a word is enough to allow the content to attach to memory. Students can connect with the lecture, rather than mindlessly record their notes in an attempt to obtain each piece of information.

Nevertheless, quantity may be more important to some students. In this case, a laptop would be the appropriate means of note taking to gather the most content possible.

The advantages and disadvantages of both a laptop and paper prove that it is ultimately a student’s decision to decide what will provide the best learning experience.

Dr. Butterfield of the psychology department discourages note-taking entirely, “I discourage them from taking notes because, in my experience, the students that do best in my class don’t [take notes].” Professor Butterfield believes students are more engaged with the material and their peers when they abstain from note taking.

Whether a lecture class includes your laptop, your paper or simply your attention, it is crucial that the material is understood and committed to memory. Each method is beneficial in different ways, so a college student needs to find the best method for themselves personally.



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Rachel Durling

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