Is the Pen Mightier than the Keyboard?

By Célie Dugand and Colin McGregor

Are we turning society’s youngest members into robots that just type things out at school without ever really making sense of it all? Are we creating a generation of catatonic typists who don’t ever reflect on what they’re told?

The computer has become the preferred tool for students to take notes. But several studies maintain that you learn more when you take handwritten notes.

Given that students can generally type faster than they can write, people who take notes in class using a computer take more notes than those who write. According to a Norwegian study, students taking computer notes will transcribe 11% of what is said in class, as opposed to only 4% for those taking handwritten notes. And yet they don’t get better marks.

According to research carried out at Princeton by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, students taking handwritten notes understand course material better and remember more information, whether it be over the short or the long term.

Handwriting is slower and more exacting than typing. Students can’t write down everything they hear in class. So they listen, digest, and summarize information in order to seize its essence. Taking handwritten notes gets the brain to sift through the material more deeply, which favors comprehension and retention.

On the other hand, while typing students can more easily produce a word-for-word transcript of what the teacher is saying, which means that they don’t have to reflect on it as much.

What Science Says

Remedial teacher Josianne Parent says that the simple motor movement of writing helps students remember more, but that how much they remember differs from student to student. “It depends on their learning style,” she says. “There are several ways to learn. Some people learn better orally, some by reading, and some by writing things out. That’s why it’s important to diversify learning methods in a school.”  

As well, using pen and paper allows the note-taker to move around the page, circle key words or phrases, and add supplementary information in the margins. You can let your pen waltz on the parchment!

French version on the Reflet de Société website April 24th, 2023

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