Taking notes on paper vs. computer

Research shows writing notes is better for learning than typing.  See here:


I have always been looking for better ways to learn whether it be in a lecture, a meeting or a conference.

  • Should I take notes?
  • Sould I write or should I type?
  • Should I not take notes and listen more intently?

Then there is the medium:  Is paper the way to go? My handwriting is atrocious, but it is certainly the way I’ve taken most of my notes.  What about a computer?  You can definitely type faster than you can write by hand, but then come the stumbling blocks of diagrams, graphs and any other drawings you may want to add to your notes.  The advent of the Wacom Pen enabled Laptop was very exciting.  I had professors giving lectures on their IBM laptops with Pen input and colleagues taking notes on similar devices.  I loved the fact that you could kick back and rest assured that the professors notes were going to be posted just as he/she wrote them as we walked out of class!  Also, it amazes me to think that Pen input existed on laptops since 1994, that’s over 20 years ago!  Finally what about tablets?  Most recently popularized by the Microsoft Surface devices and of course the iPad Pro, tablets turn on immediately, they have long battery life, and the option to type or write using a pen.

Ultimately, I think a big factor in the use of one note taking medium or another is convenience.  Most of the time pen and paper are easy to come by.  Sometimes the laptop is already open and one can quickly type a note.  Using a digitizing pen on either a laptop or a tablet, however, seems to still requires more effort, but offers some benefits which are worth taking advantage of with enough warning, such as a planned meeting or lecture.

Well what about the quality of the learning experience?  At least in terms of writing vs typing I found an interesting paper that finds that writing is a better aid in learning than typing.  They posit that the slower throughput of writing requires us to think more about what hear and synthesize it on paper.  Further their data show that it’s harder for us to do the same thing on a computer while typing even when instructed to try to synthesize.  It is an interesting read so please take a look!

So what about writing on a computer or tablet with a pen?  My wife is currently doing her own test, but I’m curious to know if there is more research on this out there.