When it comes to taking notes in class or during reading it is chic to use a laptop or tablet in class. The question that I am asking in this article is whether it is better to use the computer or to handwrite your notes. This is a complex issue and there is no absolute right answer. Much depends on your learning style and on the way you use the notes once they are taken down. There are arguments on both sides of this issue, however, most make the classic mistake of not making the connection to learning styles.
Taking Notes: The Computer
Taking notes using a laptop computer or a tablet makes sense if you are a logical - mathematical learner or an interpersonal learner. The former is one who relies on clear connections to technology, science. Some even consider the inner workings of these high-level Turing machines exciting. The interpersonal learner is social in nature, wanting to fit in and be a part of the crowd. Their interest is connected to the popularity of taking notes using the machine as a tool for learning.
Beyond the learning styles, taking notes using a computer means that notes are less likely to be reviewed. Reading notes on a computer screen is somewhat more difficult than reading them handwritten. There is also some evidence that suggests that the act of keyboarding is different than using a pen and paper. This difference manifests in a hand to brain connection that is weaker than handwritten notes.
These apparent disadvantages are easily overcome by printing the notes on paper using the paper for review. During the review of the printed notes, one regains the hand-brain connection by handwriting cues, main ideas and such as marginalia, thus renewing the efficacy of pen and paper.
Taking Notes: Pen(cil) and Paper
For visual learners, kinesthetic learners, musical and linguistic learners, and even intrapersonal learners, handwriting notes appear to be more valuable. For each of these learners, the hand-brain connection is strong. Visual learners have a more or less visual experience as they look at the pen on paper. Kinesthetic learners have a deeper hand-brain connection as their motor skills imprint ideas onto the paper. Linguistic learners find the connection to handwritten notes similar to the satisfaction of reading a book. Musical learners are attuned to making sounds with their fingers in almost every instance. Handwriting notes is another way to have motion turn into ideas. The intrapersonal learner is often someone apart from the crowd. If the current passion is for computer note taking then the intrapersonal learner opts for pen(cil) and paper.
There are, of course, disadvantages to handwriting notes. One significant disadvantage is legibility; will you be able to read your notes the next day? Another, especially if you opt for handwriting is the chance you might run out of ink using a pen or the pencil lead breaks and you can no longer write. This is overcome by making sure you have an adequate supply of 'tools' with which to write before going to class. Carry more than one pen. Have several sharpened pencils or a portable sharpener in your backpack. The advantage to taking notes by hand is the hand-brain connection. You are far more apt to connect meaning to your notes later on if they were handwritten.
Be Clear in your Choices
Personally, as a linguistic, visual, and intrapersonal learner, I have always preferred writing my notes by hand. The act of writing, for me, is one of embracing the act of note-taking. Using a computer to take notes is something I have never personally found workable. I tried it in graduate school but, after about two weeks I gave it up for a return to pen and paper.
When you make a choice for taking notes in class or when reading, I suggest you look closely at your own learning style and make an informed choice. Make the wrong choice and you'll likely be wasting your time studying hard. Make the right choice and you'll devote less time studying because you'll understand the material far better.