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The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.

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    Sweet, a research paper that tackles something I’ve been talking about anecdotally for years when asked why I carry a notebook and mechanical pencil with me around the office.

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      I posted it sort of to vindicate my comments in The Return of the Hipster PDA thread, and because it actually came up just today on a site I read, The Imaginative Conservative. I decided to find and link the study to avoid discussion devolving into politics, but the original article that lead me to the survey may be worth reading for some.

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        So when I read “The Imaginative Conservative” I had no idea what that could even mean, but I feared the worst (which probably says something about our times). I must say, however, that despite being pretty damn far to the left myself I enjoyed some of the articles.

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        This is something I really appreciate about about my current workplace. We’ve got laptops and insane amounts of compute power around the office, but the unspoken culture is to prefer paper notebooks. It’s nice not feel out of place going scritch-scritch instead of click-clack during meetings.

        (It does get a little odd meeting groups of external people, however.)

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          Many years ago, when taking my degree in physics, I noticed that for those subjects where I had made longhand notes during lectures I had a much better grasp of the details of the subject immediately afterwards - revision consisted of a quick scan over my notes. In the subjects with handouts, I was having to go over the handouts after the lectures in order to make sure that I understood everything. As a result I made a point of trying to keep notes even during lectures that came with comprehensive handouts.

          I’m not sure whether the note taking itself was helpful, or whether it was simply that it absolutely forced me to engage with all of the material during the lectures: Without having to make notes, I could convince myself that I was paying attention when in fact I might have been missing bits and pieces of the material that could significantly effect my comprehension later & mean I had to spend extra time going over material that, had I taken notes, I would have been familiar with already.

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            Lately, I have found that it is extremely hard for me to think without having pencil and paper; I write down what I want to do do, I sketch a few data structures, jot dot some pseudo code I think may be relevant, etc. I find that I cannot do the same kind of exploration at a keyboard, even using a great program like org-mode.

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            I’m wondering if there is a study comparing longhand and shorthand. If speed limit promotes internal synthesizing, which in turn helps learning, similar effects of the laptop using would show up in shorthand, too.

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              This isn’t surprising to me personally. A notebook is just more tactile than a keyboard. A keyboard is really only good to generate a stream of characters while with a pen you can draw diagrams and write anywhere on the page.

              A more interesting question would be the difference between pen/paper and something like a tablet notetaking app using stylus.

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                Yes, I would like to see a study like that. I also think that basic pen and paper should somehow be considered a “control” for people doing UX/UI work. I have to think that the designers of, say, OneNote, the newest Apple Notes app or the maybe even Xournal has knowledge of these studies or at came to similar conclusions.

                Regardless, everything seems to point to pencil and paper being the benchmark to beat.

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                Laptop use facilitates verbatim transcription of lecture content because most students can type significantly faster than they can write (Brown, 1988). Thus, typing may impair the encoding benefits seen in past note-taking studies.

                Perhaps the note-taking compensates for the absence of an actual discussion where the students would need to gather their thoughts. I know, discussion does not really scale, but still…

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                  Sorry if I missed it, but I’m assuming the study allowed students to use the laptop as they would in real class. That means a lot probably tabbed out of their note-taking program to browse the Internet. That definitely proves it’s inferior to taking notes by hands, which provides less distractions, but I’d be interested in seeing the result of students taking notes on laptops without any distractions.

                  I personally took notes by hand but I never actually referred back to them. Even when studying, I’d take notes again instead of reading my old ones.

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                    The study opens up discussing how previous studies allowed for laptops to become distractions via multitasking and internet browsing. The authors here ensured that the laptops weren’t connected to the internet during the experiment and they also explored a few different methods to address weaknesses in prior studies. Overall, it seems like a pretty thorough experimental design.

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                      That means a lot probably tabbed out of their note-taking program to browse the Internet.

                      You can also doodle on the paper and that is as good a distraction as any. You can run a space battle simulation this way even.