Is using a laptop to take notes in a lecture a bad idea?

This week members of the LTT discussed a series of papers which compared students’ understanding of lectures (and in some case final grades) comparing those who took notes on paper against those who used laptops (interesting there was little reference to mobile devices in the papers). The study show that if the students using computers try and record the lectures verbatim, then their retention and comprehension is poorer than those who take abbreviated notes. This affect appears most marked in male students, particularly those struggling to master the concepts.  Interestingly in one study where tablets were used (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2017) where students also used a stylus to write notes freehand, their results were found to be as good as those of students who took hand-written notes.

These papers raised a lot of questions : What about students whose note-taking doesn’t stop after the class – if they later summarise their electronic notes, or perhaps convert them into a mind-map – what affect does this have? What about classes where lecture capture is used, or when notes supplied in advance? Can the observed difference be reduced or even reversed, if students are taught different ways of taking notes electronically? Who should teach students this? Are there things that lecturers can do to help students understand what note-taking strategy might work in their classes?

Plenty to mull over!

We looked at:

May C (2014) “A learning secret: don’t take notes with a laptop” Scientific American, 3rd June 2014.
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Mueller PA & Oppenheimer DM (2017) “Technology and note-taking in the classroom, boardroom, hospital room, and courtroom” Trends in Neuroscience and Education 5(3) pp 139-145
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Mueller PA & Oppenheimer DM (2015) “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking” Psychological Science 25(6) pp 1159-1168
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Patterson RW & Patterson RM (2017) “Computers and productivity: Evidence from laptop use in the college classroom” Economics of Education Review, 57 pp 66-79.
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Background image credit: Galymzhan Abdulgalimov shared via unsplash