Published: 27th March 2021
Welcome to Reason: Should we kick away the ladder of learning?
Taking notes by hand is more likely to be ‘generative’. This is because you can’t write down everything you hear, you tend to condense information into useful forms, like summarising, paraphrasing
I don’t believe in kicking away ladders. By that, I mean the ladders by which I ascended as a young writer, small magazines that didn’t pay anything, and that sort of thing
— George Woodcock (1912-1995), Canadian writer of political biography and history
We start our learning/ schooling journey with a slate and chalk, switch over to paper and pencil/pen and now, to a range of modern electronic gadgets that ensure speed and accuracy. In the process, we lose something that we are not even aware of. A new study, widely reported in the media, including in The New Indian Express (20/3/21) gives us a wake-up call and tells us not to kick the ladder by which we started our academic life. But first, the summary of the study which says: Want to ace your tests? Take notes by hand.
If you’re a student looking for the most advanced learning machine available, give laptops a pass — and pick up an age-old notebook. You’ll absorb and retain more information if you take notes by hand, according to a study by UCLA, giving you an edge on your tests.
Putting pen to paper requires a different kind of mental processing than typing does. Sure, typing on a laptop gives you the power to record a lecture nearly word for word — but transcribing verbatim is associated with what’s called ‘shallow cognitive processing'. The words may be captured on your screen, but they basically went in one ear and out the other.
Taking notes by hand is more likely to be ‘generative’. This is because you can’t write down everything you hear, you tend to condense information into useful forms, like summarising, paraphrasing and concept mapping. Born of necessity, this kind of note-taking is more creative.
Frida, a student at UC Berkeley, is a note-taker extraordinaire. Her notebooks are proof that taking notes doesn’t have to be boring. “I’ve always taken notes by hand ever since I can remember,” Frida says. “It’s just something that I picked up because I love to write and because I didn’t really have my own laptop until my senior year of high school.”
Getting her own laptop for college didn’t really disrupt her process. She tried using it during lectures but ended up going back to her notes. “It’s a lot easier to study information that I already processed rather than just text that I copied directly from the slides.” For doubters, she has some advice: “Just try it! The great thing about taking handwritten notes is that anyone can start with the supplies they likely already have.”