Laptop or Handwriting-Which is more efficient?

Which do you prefer for taking notes? Pen and paper–the tools of the stone age? Or the sleek laptop–an exuberant step into the modern era of technology and efficiency? There’s always the debate over which is better for students in the classroom. With the laptop, there’s speed, accessibility, and less weight (notebooks can be cumbersome and exhausting if you need to walk around, carrying multiple throughout the entire day). However, the notebook and pen are timeless. There’s no startup time and they require absolutely no electricity, making it accessible and available anytime.

Well, I’ve decided to do a little digging and see which method researchers believe are the most effective. Why’s this important? Well, the better method will produce the greatest return for you with regards to your grades and overall efficiency in classes. Your life will be much easier and you won’t have to work as hard.

Your life will be much easier and you won’t have to work as hard.

First, there’s the laptop. Laptops are an efficient tool. They provide us virtually unlimited access to billions of research and information in seconds. With all of the various browser extensions, helpful websites, and apps it’s obvious that the laptop is the better tool. For example, a word processing document can contain all of a student’s notes on one page in a neat, organized, easily viewed space. Additionally, our ability to type words quickly on a laptop is unmatched by the act of painstakingly attempting to jot down notes using shorthand with a pen and paper. Most of the time, an average student will miss some key details by trying to write down a bullet point from the board or while trying to make note of a statement that the professor seemed to emphasize. On the laptop, you can essentially transcribe a whole class with almost no true effort.

The laptop: Fast, reliable, and efficient

But what if that’s the problem?

Various studies including research from Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California and Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University reveal that as a whole, taking notes with a laptop proves to be more harmful than beneficial. They offer two primary reasons for this:

Laptops Cause Distractions

The efficiency of your laptop is diminished if you’re using it for games and social media over note-taking

Laptops, while efficient and beneficial, can be extremely distracting. With the excess of browsing options including Facebook, Twitter, games, email, Reddit (and the list goes on) college students can be easily tempted to view other pages while in class. By doing this, they’re actively missing out on necessary information. Imagine this scenario: the professor is talking about the class material and tries to use an anecdote to explain the information. He gets sidetracked and begins to talk about another (kind of) related story. At this point, you tune out and decide to check your Facebook post in order to get a quick giggle at a meme or picture that your buddy recently tagged you in. Sound familiar? While one can certainly transcribe an entire lecture (with on-board notes included), the content isn’t being learned and oftentimes not understood well. This leads to the second argument made in the research.

The Content isn’t being absorbed Efficiently

As mentioned above, the laptop allows verbatim notes. However, research concludes that verbatim notes don’t necessarily provide the same cognitive benefits that one gets from being forced to manage the information quickly for future access. The use of shorthand forces the student to manipulate the information into bite-sized chunks that they can understand, which also causing them to retain the information and the conceptual nature of the information much more effectively.


In essence, shorthand requires more brain effort. Your brain remembers the effort. A laptop requires much less active effort and your brain is able to abandon focus.

Overall, the study showed that with note-taking, memory recollection was vastly higher than with their laptop using counterparts. This was even true when students didn’t study at all after taking notes. It should be noted that the studies indicated tests the memory retention on a short-term, immediate level. There is no indication that either has more or less benefits in the long term.

As a whole, this brings up the question about whether having laptops in class are necessary. What do you think? Do you believe the laptop helps you perform better in class? And if so, why? Or are you old-fashioned and prefer to stick to paper and pen? Let me know what you think in the comments and thank you for reading!


The Pen is mightier Than the Keyboard

Attention Students, Put your Laptops Away

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