For a while now, I've heard the claim that "studies show" that note-takers remember content better if they take notes by hand versus on a computer. I previously took this claim on face value in part because this was before I'd heard about the replication crisis and also because I'd had personal experiences that I believed supported this claim.
In light of the replication crisis and recent experiences, I've come to be more skeptical of this research. I started to look at some of the research pop science articles on the topic cite and am skeptical of the work I've looked at so far.
In the example I link to above, they have subjects perform two tasks, a recall and recognition task for words they handwrote or typed with a multiplication task in between writing and recalling/recognizing. They find a not significant difference between recalled words for handwriting vs. typing and a barely (p-value .03) significant difference between recognized words for the two groups. However, if you look at the standard deviations for the means for the two tasks, you'll see that each mean is in the other's 1-SD range.
Furthermore, the task they describe is simple but not necessarily that relevant to what's really going on when someone takes notes on a lecture / talk. They intentionally used semantically meaningless words (for understandable reasons) whereas real-life talks hopefully have higher-level meaning and themes.
ETA (after initial posting): Just found another paper that a few pop-sci articles seem to cite. This paper covers three experiments, which are all more realistic than the one I described above. I'm only going to discuss the first here.
The first had participants watch TED talks, take notes on them (either on a laptop or by hand) and then answer a combination of "factual" and "conceptual" questions about them. At a high level, they interpret the results of this experiment as showing that laptop note-takers did as well as the by hand note-takers on factual questions but worse on conceptual questions. (However, this is only the case after they convert to z-scores. That is, the differences between raw grades are not significant.) They also find that a difference between laptop note-takers and by hand note-takers is that the laptop note-takers write more and tend to copy the lecturers words more exactly. When they control for these factors, they find a much weaker effect of note-taking medium. Their latter experiments basically try and disentangle how much note-taking medium vs. following best practices matters (interested readers can read the paper). Overall, I'd say this study maybe causes me to update a little in the direction of typing having a downside all else equal but mostly just confirms my prior that synthesizing and not just copying what the lecturer says matter more.
After seeing this, I thought, "maybe there are a lot of studies that together make a stronger case." However, I randomly sampled a few articles on the topic and they all linked to
this one these two study studies!
Unless I spend more time digging into the science, I'm left to trust my own experience, which has been mixed. I do find handwriting notes is nice for the flexibility it allows for drawing diagrams, structuring things on the page, etc. However, I write really slowly and therefore have to compress what I'm writing as much as possible. This can be a benefit (and is the one the articles I read claim) if it means I'm internalizing the material better but also means that if I don't understand something well, I often don't have to time to write down the details of my confusion. Furthermore, I have a habit of never looking back at my handwritten notes unless I'm diligent about indexing them, whereas with typed notes, I can use search to find exactly what I'm looking for.
So, this leaves me interested in answers to the following two questions:
- Have you read the research on typing vs. handwriting? If so, do you find it compelling / trustworthy? (Links to good studies encouraged!)
- What have you concluded from your personal experience?
Thanks for sharing this! Interestingly, this has not been my experience - when I started taking LaTex notes in live talks / lectures, I think my retention went down because I would get nerd-sniped trying to fix my formatting. However, I do think a similar thing is true for me which is that my retention seems proportionate to my time spent interpreting / thinking about the material, which I could see note-taking difficulty being correlated with. I suspect it's not for me because I have an above average level need format things in the "optimal" way (this is also why I dislike using pens for writing).