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I've heard of various studies that found that just taking notes helps remember things, even if you throw the notes out immediately after. Is this only true for note taking done by hand with a pen and paper? Has there been any studies done to find the effects on memory of taking notes on the computer?

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3 Answers 3

I searched for "note taking by hand vs computer memory". Of the first three hits there were mixed results:

This paper says there was more retention by typing. It's an interesting paper because it examines the differences between notetaking when reading a textbook vs when in a lecture.

PBS says paper is better as does this article.

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I went to law school 40 years ago, long before laptops and other portable keyboarding devices.

Among my classmates there were a variety of methods of keeping track of lecture material. We actually discussed among ourselves the various methods and whether one was better than another for retaining a large amount of material.

It seems to be individual, based on the way your brain is wired.

Flash forward 20 years. My eldest child was in grade school and was diagnosed with mild dyslexia. She was assigned a learning disability reading teacher who articulated and reinforced what the group had observed in law school.

The unscientific breakdown is as follows

Ear/hand - listen to the lecture, manually write it

Eye/ear/hand - watch and listen to lecture, make notes. Often includes an element of interaction which requires mental engagement aka, raising your hand and asking a question.

Eye/hand - see the text- make notes, no aural component. My daughter learned basic math by moving small blocks around and then learning to work an abacus. Same concept.

Ear/ear - listen to the lecture, record it(cassette recorders existed back then) and replay it. One friend used to fall asleep with lecture tapes playing under her pillow. She retained the information just fine. No hand or mechanical component.

I have also read that introducing a specific odor during the learning input can assist in retention and recall. The fragrance used in the experiment was, as I recall, rosewater but it did not appear that a specific odor was required.

The distinction between using handwriting and keyboarding is probably generational. In the late 80's and early 90's, kids were still taught handwriting and were not introduced to keyboarding skills for letters and words until middle school. My younger daughter thinks through her fingers on a keyboard. My older one does so as well but less fluidly/fluently.
I am a poor typist. I could never have made it through college if I had to type in real time to take notes, keeping in mind that my experience pre-dates any self correcting typewriter or word processing system (I hand wrote papers and got other people to type them in final).

There does not seem to be much scientific research directly on your question, but I went to PubMed.com and used search terms eye hand memory to find these:

Br J Psychol. 2013 May;104(2):249-64. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.2012.02115.x. Epub 2012 May 24. Manual tapping enhances visual short-term memory performance where visual and motor coordinates correspond. Sapkota RP1, Pardhan S, van der Linde I.

Acta Psychol (Amst). 2013 Jan;142(1):51-61. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2012.11.008. Epub 2012 Dec 9. From hand to eye: the role of literacy, familiarity, graspability, and vision-for-action on enantiomorphy. Fernandes T1, Kolinsky R.

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Heres some a great answer provided by (AsapScience)

"When looking at the effectiveness of learning, laptops as tools for note-taking do not fair as well as plain-old pen and paper, a study has suggested. Why? Typing is faster than writing on paper, so students are more likely to just type what they're listening to word for word without interpreting. "

(Source/more info)

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