Paper Vs. Digital: What’s The Best Way To Take Notes?

School is back in session, so it’s time again for that ever important question: Which are better: Paper or digital notes? One camp on this issue says, “Who cares, as long as students are taking notes!?” but the students taking the notes usually have pretty clear opinions one way or another. So what are the advantages of each type of notetaking and which has been proven most effective? 

Digital Notes

The advantage of digital notetaking is that so much of a student’s work is done online today, that copying and pasting information makes note-taking a whole lot easier. With that simplicity, notes also become much more efficient. Students can work together with classmates to share a Google doc and add to each other’s notes, comment and clarify questions for each other, and work together as a team to make sure their notes are effective and efficient.

Another amazing part of digital notes is that they can be taken everywhere without a massive notebook or binder. This means that students are free to study or reference their notes wherever they go. If they’re feeling strapped for time and have a few minutes before a doctor appointment or practice, digital notes can be pulled up on their phone or other connected device to provide easy access for study time.

Organization can be wildly difficult for middle and high school aged students. Sure, some students excel at keeping themselves organized, but we’ve all seen that student whose backpack spills out with every scrap of paper other than the one they need! Maybe you’ve parented a student like that or are that student, and you cringe at the thought of the many assignments that went missing despite it being completed. Digital notetaking eliminates the physical clutter of paper notes, but you still have to organize them into file folders to make sure they’re going to be handy when you need them.

Paper Notes

On the other hand, paper notes offer some advantages that students might not automatically identify because they often take more effort than the copy/paste convenience of their digital counterparts. The most important aspect of paper notes to recognize is that scientists have actually studied the effectiveness of digital versus paper notes and have found that paper notes are simply more effective if students are using them to learn and remember what they’re learning. Since it would be a rare student who took notes “just for the fun of it,” that’s a pretty important piece of information to take into consideration.

Although studies have been proving this to be true since the start of the digital notetaking option, one study entitled “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking” by Pam A. Mueller from Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer from the University of California found that hand written notes are best, as their article’s clever title indicates.

In an interview, Mueller said, “When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can. The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective – because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.” Over the course of three different studies, the researchers noted a significant lack of processing in the notes of students who used a digital format versus hand written.

In other words, hand written notes force students to think about what they’re writing down, making them think more deeply about what the message means and how to boil it down into simpler terms. This is a higher level processing and thinking skill than copying word-for-word. This is an amazing advantage given to hand written notes! 

Another benefit of hand written notes is that students connect more personally when they see their own handwriting rather than the sanitized typed version of digital notes. It’s no secret that our brains like what our brains produce! When your brain sees its own handwriting, the connection to the message is naturally stronger. Your brain recognizes the loops in the letter “s” you make, the funny slant you have the habit of adding to the letter “r,” and the way you always dot the letter “i” above the letter after it. This helps the message of the notes sink in more and makes them more productive and useful.

Personal Preference

The one consideration that everyone needs to make is personal preference. If a student is willing to put in more time studying their digital notes, then they can end up being just as effective as hand written. Likewise, a student who prefers to write their notes has to be sure to keep them organized and tidy. When it comes to taking notes, you can find advantages and disadvantages to each, so finding the type of note that helps you perform at your highest potential academically might take some experimenting and some experience. Stick with it, and just don’t stop taking notes! They are a valuable resource to students, young and old.

Train The Brain

If you’ve tried to grasp tough topics, taken handwritten and digital notes, but you’re still just not getting it, then it might be time to reach out for help! Train The Brain is an innovative online homework help and tutoring service that you can access anywhere you have a solid internet connection. You no longer have to leave your home and sit around at a tutoring center. You can set up and attend tutoring or homework help sessions with our highly qualified content area experts in the comfort of your own home, the library, or even in a classroom at your school. If you want to learn more about TTB and the services we offer, feel free to check out our services and our blog. Additionally, you can reach out to our Train The Brain admins online. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.


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