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Paper beats laptop for learning

Here's an interesting bit of research: psychologists have found evidence that taking notes on paper improves learning and retention compared to taking notes on laptops.

The results of the experiments that led the researchers to this conclusion are soon to be published, but the tl;dr version is this: regardless of whether it's short term learning or long term retention (for, say, final exams), and even regardless of whether the students were told about the effect and how to counteract it, students who took notes by computer generally performed worse than those who took notes on paper.

According to the research, the difference between paper and laptop is that note-taking on paper requires a greater degree of cognitive engagement. You have to make an effort to take notes on paper, think through what you want to write, how to write it, and how to annotate it for later study - an effort that is not required when using a computer.

While I would expect this research needs to be validated by other, future experiments, I see this as supporting something most teachers already know from experience: you can't learn if you don't really invest in the whole process - there are no shortcuts.


  1. It's a matter of focus that will determine if the students will actually be productive. http://www.21stcenturynews.com.au/10-habits-kill-productivity/

    1. A couple of points:
      1. What exactly does "productive" means? Do we really want students to only be productive?
      2. Focus is important, but if we're talking about a nominally healthy person, focus itself can be learned through practice. It's a shame so few elementary and high school curricula include this kind of training (in North America, at least).
      3. The study I mention in my post can be read as suggesting that using paper improves focus - or at least enables one to focus more.


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