One of the key elements to successful retention of learning material is note-taking. With the advent of computers, tablets, and smart phones, many students rely on their keyboards  for note-taking.  However, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal may have some re-thinking their note-taking strategies.  Data from research studies at Princeton and UCLA demonstrate that hand-written notes enable students to retain more information for longer periods than do typed notes.

The Princeton study, as quoted in states, “Note-takers who used laptops created nearly verbatim records of the lectures in the study, but scored lower on tests of retention than those who wrote their notes longhand. Even when students were given a week’s delay before a test on the same lecture, those who used laptops performed below that of longhand writers.”

Two years ago The Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching published a review of note-taking that indicates that many students entering the university come unprepared to take effective notes.  It set forth suggestions and procedures for effective note-taking and responded to the question regarding the optimal note-taking method.  Keyboarding may allow students to generate more content than hand-writing, However, “if  learners choose to transcribe everything the instructor says,their WM (words/minute) will be taxed greatly by production procedures and reduce their ability to comprehend content during class. . .In contrast, writing notes in (a learner’s) own words reduces some of the burden on WM associated with production processes, in favor of learners focusing more on comprehension.” Thus, the effort of taking notes long-hand appears to have the benefit of allowing students to think more intensely and comprehend the material.  The ability to take verbatim notes using a keyboard may actually hinder rather than benefit retention.

The results of these studies have implications for the elementary school curriculum, which  has been moving away from tacking cursive writing.  Practicing the flowing motion of script writing may actually have positive cognitive effects and assist learning.

Laura Maniglia