Taking Notes on Paper

This article is interesting. It suggests that taking notes by hand increases retention because you have to reorganize the information as you go, unlike with typing, where many people are fair enough typists to get down information verbatim or close to it.

The theory makes sense to me. Summarizing is a form of creative destruction and reconstruction, which I would expect to deepen retention, particularly when it involves creating charts or diagrams or tables, which are particularly hard to create in real time electronically.

That said, there is a lot of work to be done before I would advocate for returning to paper after years of distributing participant guides in electronic format at our live classes and conferences. Even if paper-based note taking does increase retention, electronic note taking increases searchability later (particularly given the number of binders that got thrown away in the old days rather than being lugged home on the plane).

Further, it’s not clear without more work that the research applies to relative subject matter experts, who have a rich schema already when they enter the classroom, and who therefore might not benefit as much or at all from the re-encoding involved in taking notes on paper.

It would also be interesting to compare the results to taking no notes at all. We design our participant materials with lots of background information built in, minimizing the need to take notes, as there is evidence that note taking during a class decreases learning because one can’t write asked listen at the same time. My understanding is that the best note taking is that which happens immediately after the class. That style of note taking should be the best of all world since it would prevent verbatim recording and would also prevent note taking from interfering with listening. Still, how many learners take the time to do this is another question.

Of course, the article that I’m basing that last paragraph on eludes me at the moment. I’ll dig around some more and post a reference…


One thought on “Taking Notes on Paper

  1. Pingback: Taking Notes on Paper, part 2 | Engaged

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