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Taking Notes? What Works Best?

Imagine you are in a formal learning setting or a meeting and you want to take notes to help you remember what was said or decided.  Two options are in front of you – taking notes the old-fashioned way with a pen and paper; or typing notes into your laptop or iPad-like device.

Which do you choose?

If you are like most of us who are addicted to our electronics, you likely reach for your device.  Plus, paper and pen seems so old school.

You might be surprised to learn that psychologists Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer asked this same question and they came to a surprising conclusion – taking notes the old-fashioned way – by hand – was much better for learning and memory.

Why might this be the case?  They suggest that taking notes by hand is superior because the mental processes involved require the learner to summarize, imagine, and conceptualize what the speaker is trying to communicate.  People who type their notes into a device focus primarily on transcribing.  The process of trying to record (word for word) what the speaker is saying requires much less cognitive muscle power.   To be fair, their study was conducted with college students so we can’t make too many assumptions about elementary or secondary students but it can offer us a chance to pause and evaluate classroom practice.

The take-home message is that students will learn and remember more when we utilize practices that require them to engage cognitively by summarizing, asking questions, reflecting, writing, and communicating their knowledge.

Reference: Mueller PA, Oppenheimer DM. The pen is mightier than the keyboard: advantages

of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychol Sci. 2014 Jun;25(6):1159-68. doi:

10.1177/0956797614524581. Epub 2014 Apr 23. PubMed PMID: 24760141

Bryan Harris, Ed.D. is a trainer/consultant Bryan Harris, Ed.D. has been an educator for over 25 years. He has served as a classroom teacher, an elementary school principal, and a district level director. Now working full time as an author, speaker, and consultant he has trained over 18,000 educators in powerful and effective strategies that increase student engagement and achievement. He is known for his engaging trainings and presentations that demonstrate relevant and practical strategies. He is the author of 5 books including the popular 2010 book Battling Boredom. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Education and a Master of Educational Leadership degree from Northern Arizona University. In 2013, he earned a doctorate (EdD) from Bethel University in Minnesota after studying factors impacting new teacher retention. He also holds a certification in brain-based learning from Jensen Learning Corporation. As the author of three highly-regarded books published by Routledge, he has a passion for helping educators discover ways to inspire and engage students.


  1. Avatar

    Bryan, I couldn’t agree more with your findings and article! most of the students nowadays, use electronic devices, including their cell phones and old fashioned notebooks are out of use. My personal experience, shows me that I cannot remember equally if I don’t take notes writing with pen and paper. It seems the connections between the action of hand writring and the brain, work wonders in memory processes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  2. Avatar

    I agree, see it, hear it, do it (write it)


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