Typing or Hand-Writing...Why One Trumps the Other

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What’s with all the laptops? I ask myself time and time again as I walk into my classes to find a growing number of my college students preferring this method of note-taking.

As our human experience becomes more technologically advanced, it’s easy to adapt to new ways, especially when technology can enhance and improve our way of life.

All that changes though when we dive into the chapters of cognition and memory (I teach general psychology)! My students soon become fascinated when they find out that physically writing something down takes up a different kind of energy in our brains that aides in stronger connections compared to punching in letters on a keyboard.

I encourage students to take notes whichever method they prefer. But, I definitely do a little happy dance inside after witnessing the avid tech note takers pull out a notebook for the remainder of the semester. 

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Here are 6 reasons why the old-school method of taking notes still rocks!

1. It Wakes Up the Brain!


When engaging in handwritten notes, your brain is directing your hand to partake in intricate movements as you recall letters every time you write. The areas in the brain responsible for thinking, language, memory, and muscle movement are activated all at the same time! 

Now think of typing your notes out. This style of note taking requires less alertness on your part and because fewer areas of the brain are activated, a fewer number of neurons are being fired off while typing. You may be able to type more content than writing, but the brain does not filter through what’s important nor does it make sense of all if it’s parts.

A recent study tested this theory by having one group of students hand write notes over the duration of the course while another group was asked to only type their notes out. According to the Association for Psychological Science(APS), “The students using laptops were, in fact, more likely to take copious notes, which can be beneficial to learning; however, they were also more likely to take verbatim notes, and this 'mindless transcription' appeared to cancel out the benefits.”

When typing, your brain goes into an autopilot-like mode and you collect information rather than truly synthesize and digest what it is being taught. 

2. Add Your Own Style & Personality


Handwriting allows you to also add personality and expression behind your writing. Ever notice when you write in a rush your words then look rushed and jagged? If you are happy, you may notice extra punctuation!!!! or CAPITALIZE. 

Personality is also added by organization or flow in which your notes partake.

Everybody’s handwriting is unique and it changes based on interpretation. Your handwriting is almost as unique as your finger-print. You have specific strokes, hooks and line usage that no-one else embodies, which makes writing out your notes a connected process. This also can explain why we as humans love receiving a hand-written note far more than an email/text message or typed card. 

3. No Electronic limbo


Although I'm all for technology in some aspects, note-taking is not one. There's just no denying it's distracting tendencies. 

It's bad enough that one has to activate self-control to refrain themselves from hopping on social media in-between and end up in a scrolling frenzy.

If the access to the internet right next to one's notes doesn't distract them, there are countless other distractions that come from typing such as running out of battery or worrying about the LED lighting affecting one's eyes. the Having to bring a charger, lose power, led affecting eyes, sound going off, distraction, pop-ups. 

Hand-written notes allow the learner to be fully intact as it is just the blank canvas(paper), pen and the muse. The only distraction that may come up is a pen that slowly runs out of ink. 

4. Conceptual-Application


Being able to pull apart key concepts and have them make sense in one's own mind stems directly from handwritten notes. 

A study published in Psychological Science by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California shows how handwritten notes allow students to summarize, paraphrase and partake in concept-mapping at the same exact time of note-taking. 

During the hand-writing process, our brains encode and create concepts so much so that students in the study's handwritten section answered far more concept based questions like "How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?" The students who typed their notes were even given extra time to review & organize their notes, but the results still showed the note-takers trumped the type-rs.


Some things should just never go out of style!