One would assume that more is better; that it is advantageous to take exhaustive notes that precisely capture the content, allowing for a complete verbatim review of the material. However, this is not always the case.
According to the New York Times (NYT) article, Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting, written by Susan Dynarski, professor of education, after surveying Princeton, USC and UCLA students, it was concluded that, while computer notes are agreeably faster, students who typed notes were able to recall less conceptual information when tested later on than those whose notes were handwritten.
Despite the fact that computer notes can record a more complete version of what the teacher is saying, because the syntax is more complex, one ends up paying less attention to what is actually important to the meaning. As a result, one learns less in class, creating tedious work later on when studying, if searching for essential information.
Notes should summarize and simplify what one needs to know. Avoid what doesn’t matter and focus on guiding questions, big ideas, summaries, conclusions, and terms and important definitions.
A study from the University of Argentina agrees with the NYT’s conclusion that taking notes by hand has shown to improve conceptual understanding, and often, grades. From evaluating two separate test groups, it could be concluded that questions involving factual answers had the same grades for both the computer notes and written note groups, however, the conceptual answers were much higher in the written group.
It’s also imperative to highlight that, when taking computer notes, it is easy to multi-task, which diminishes productivity, according to the University of Argentina. Distractions are a prime disadvantage to computer notes, especially with social media and text, easily accessible on a Mac.
Harvard-Westlake librarian, Elaine Levia, expressed similar thoughts on the topic, for herself and her students.
“I prefer handwritten notes, and find them to be most effective, as I can take the time to type them afterward. The processing time is really important; especially for a student learning a new concept. Taking handwritten languages for foreign languages can also be really helpful. Additionally, I also find that my laptop notes go off task faster than the typed notes”.
In conclusion, written notes are the better option because they allow one to focus on meaning, eliminate unimportant details without distractions and overall improve grades, according to the NYT.
Nevertheless, if typing notes on a computer, try to type less information rather than more. Focus instead on big ideas, key terms, summaries, conclusions, guiding questions, instead of writing everything down. Less is more.