Research Review: Time to Turn Off the Tablet and Pick Up a Pencil?

A recent study (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014) found that students who took notes by hand performed better on questions requiring conceptual application of the information than students who took notes on a laptop computer.

Both groups did equally well on factual recall questions. However, on conceptual questions the laptop note takers did significantly worse both immediately following the lecture as well as one week later.

This research begs the question of whether it is appropriate to have students doing everything on a computer or tablet device, as is increasingly becoming the case in schools. Research (like this study) points to the benefits of actually writing things out on paper, and supports the idea that the act of writing things promotes better engagement with the material and higher level thinking. While taking notes on an electronic device can certainly be quicker and preferable for some students, especially those with motoric challenges that impact their handwriting skills, there is clearly a place for putting the devices down, picking up a pencil, and taking notes the old-fashioned way.

What do you think? What have you noticed for yourself, your students, or your children about taking notes on a device versus on paper?


Mueller, P.A. & Oppenheimer, D.M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168. doi: 10.1177/0956797614524581

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