Multitasking, Laptops, & the Benefit of Handwritten Notes


As a University student, there is a tendency to be both enticed and excited by the ability to use laptops in class. It’s so great – we can take notes, check social media, and chat with our friends all at the same time. Plus, everyone does it, and it gives you a sense of freedom that you didn’t have in high school. However, research has proved that this is an ineffective way to learn and absorb the complex material that you learn in a lecture setting, that also harms the people sitting around you.


As an Economics major, I’m a total data nerd. In this fantastic article, it is proven that the costs are actually not only to you, but also to your peers. If you use a laptop in class, it has been shown that it affects the people that sit in the vicinity of you as well, and they don’t perform as well on their exams.

The study states:

“We found that participants who multitasked on a laptop during a lecture scored lower on a test compared to those who did not multitask, and participants who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared to those who were not. The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.”


Furthermore, since handwritten notes are more deliberate, you remember what you’re learning better. Why? Research shows that notes on a laptop tend to be written in verbatim, word for word, and therefore not synthesized through the brain as well as when you write notes down by hand. When you write notes by hand, you tend to summarize and comprehend the material while writing the notes out. This article tells you all about the detrimental effects of using a laptop in the classroom.

This is what happened during the study:

“For their first study, they took university students (the standard guinea pig of psychology) and showed them TED talks about various topics. Afterward, they found that the students who used laptops typed significantly more words than those who took notes by hand. When testing how well the students remembered information, the researchers found a key point of divergence in the type of question. For questions that asked students to simply remember facts, like dates, both groups did equally well. But for “conceptual-application” questions, such as, “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?” the laptop users did “significantly worse.”

In summary, people always perform better when using handwritten notes. You should definitely put your laptop, phone, or tablet away next time, and see if you notice a difference! I know many people who have given up on laptop note-taking and seen their academic performance improve. Distracted learning benefits no one, not you or your peers.


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