Take a look at the best affordable laptops (as seen here) and Chromebooks, and you’ll see that many of them are marketed toward older students in high school and college.
That makes sense! Walk into a lecture hall, and you’ll see a laptop on nearly every desk these days. But has anyone asked if using a laptop in a lecture is really that beneficial? Yes, they have – and the results aren’t great.
A laptop obviously has some advantages: You can take notes very quickly, add in links to lecture content as needed, and work on many different types of assignments as needed (plus chat with friends). But there are also disadvantages to using a laptop, even if you have closed down all those other distracting windows and are only using it to take notes on a lecture.
The Study By Princeton
This study comes by way of Princeton and the University of California: They looked at two groups of students, once attending a lecture with pen and paper, and one attending the lecture with laptops. Afterwards, they were tested on just how well they had understood the lecture.
Like other studies that have been done on using laptops (read our latest laptop reviews here) in school lectures, the research found that those with laptops performed worse on comprehension than those with old-fashioned writing skills.
While distraction does play a part, the core reason appears to be a lot more interesting: Laptops are just too good at their jobs. When students have a laptop at a lecture, they tend to spend most of their time as transcriptionists, copying down the entire lecture verbatim.
However, that doesn’t leave much time for thinking about what’s being said, so they don’t retain much knowledge. Those with pen and paper can’t copy every word down, so they have to think about the lecture while they listen, and decide what’s worth writing. This synthesis of salient points means that they are understanding the lecture, which is why they do so much better on comprehension tests.
So, if you attended lectures, it may be a good idea to shut down the laptop for the time being and start listening in a different way. Or, if there’s no way that’s going to happen, at least try to slow down and avoid copying every word said – condense, force yourself to think, and shut down those social media windows.