Taking Notes By Hand Is Better

What drives this paradoxical finding? Mueller and Oppenheimer postulate that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning. Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture. Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information. Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention.

—Cindy May, “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop” (HT: Jack Yoest and Brian Lund)

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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4 comments

  1. Uh-oh! Dr. Clark – please fix your link to this very important article!!!

    I teach music and am always nagging students to take analysis notes by hand – with a pencil/pen and paper, in order to exercise/preserve their cognitive skills.

    There is a real positive difference in comprehension and retention, when creating hand-written notation. Those who only interact w/ screens do not absorb content nearly as deep or permanently.

    It is as though the mediation blocks the intimate connection that occurs by doing real-time, tangible tasks. Humans learn best by DOING.

    : )

  2. When I was working at Barts, I think it was the Christian Union President, Cleve, who complained about lectures going through his hand to the paper without engaging the brain. So leaving out the laptop is clearly only a start.

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