New research suggests that handwriting can have an influence over classroom attention and can increase learning in a separate way from typing notes on a keyboard.
According to researchers at Princeton University and the University of California at Los Angeles, students who take handwritten notes typically perform at higher levels in school than their peers who typed their notes on a computer. When the two groups of students were compared, those who took longhand notes were found to have better retention of the information for longer periods of time and more readily took to new ideas.
In fact, brain imaging studies have found that there is something about the physical act of writing that excites the brain.
"Note-taking is a pretty dynamic process," said cognitive psychologist Michael Friedman at Harvard University who studies note-taking systems. "You are transforming what you hear in your mind."
However, most college students today take notes on laptops. Researchers have found that those who take notes this way do take more complete notes and are better able to keep up with the pace of the lecture than those students writing with paper and pencil. On average, college students write lecture notes at a rate of 33 words per minute, while those physically writing their notes typically do so at a rate of 22 words per minute.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that using a laptop to write notes is beneficial in the short-run, as those students were able to more readily recall a larger portion of the lecture than their classmates were when they were tested on the information immediately following the class, writes Robert Lee Hotz for The Wall Street Journal.
That advantage was found to be only temporary, though. After only 24 hours, the majority of those that took notes on a computer forgot the information they had transcribed. Due to the superficial nature of the typed notes, they were not found to be of much help in jogging the memory of the students that took them.
By comparison, those that took notes by hand were found to remember the material presented in the lectures for a longer period of time and had a better understanding of the concepts presented in class — even a week after the notes were taken. Experts report that the material was better ingrained in the students' memory due to the process of physically writing the information. The longhand notes were also found to be better for reviewing the information because they were more organized.
Psychologists Pam A. Mueller at Princeton and Daniel Oppenheimer at UCLA performed three experiments in 2014 in which they asked 67 students to listen to a number of lectures on topics such as algorithms and bats, which simultaneously taking notes either on a laptop or by hand. Students were then tested on the information immediately following the lectures and then again a week later. All of the students were allowed to review their notes before re-taking the exam, reports Jonathan Chew for Fortune.
While those who wrote their notes by hand actually wrote fewer words, researchers believed they thought more intently about what they had written and put more effort into digesting what they had learned.