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Brookings Report: For better learning in college lectures, lay down the laptop and pick up a pen

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When taking notes in a classroom, is it better use a laptop or write them out on paper? Surprisingly, a new Brookings report shows that students who note-take by hand earn better grades than those who opt to use a laptop during a lecture. Furthermore, evidence points to students actually learning less when using a laptop during class than their classmates who do not. 

Researchers at Princeton and the University of California, Los Angeles carried out a randomized experiment with a group of students. Randomly assigned either a laptop or pen and paper to take notes, the researchers had students watch a lecture and then take a standardized test. The test results showed that students using laptops scored substantially worse. 

Why is this? Researchers hypothesize that, because we can type faster than we can write, words basically bypass major cognitive processing in the brain. In contrast, when taking notes by hand, the brain has to process and condense the material before we put pen to paper, which results in a better understanding of the content of the lecture. In the experiment performed by researchers, the laptop notes more closely resembled transcripts while hand-written notes resembled summaries of the lecture. 

It was also determined that using a laptop during class is distracting to other classmates. In one of the studies outlined in the report, students were randomly assigned short tasks to perform while in class during a lecture, such as looking up movie times or going on Facebook. It was found that content on the laptop visible to other students served as enough of a distraction to lower test scores of students near those who were multi-tasking by 11%. In addition, students who were near those who were multitasking on their laptops scored 17 % lower on the comprehension section of the test. 

View the full report at the Brookings Institute site for more information and to read about additional experiments. 

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Last Edited: February 26th at 9:16am by Jessica Behrman

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