Note Taking and Learning: Digital or Traditional?

When it comes to effectively learning and processing material, read why a pen and paper is the more beneficial way to take notes.

Published on 17 January, 2018 | Last modified on 18 April, 2023
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As technology continues to advance and improve, there has been a large shift toward digital note taking. It may even seem that using pens, pencils, and notebooks to take notes is a thing of the past. Nowadays, laptops and tablets make it increasingly easier to take fast and efficient notes by typing, which in turn makes it much easier to search for the information we’re looking for. But could this dependence on our devices to write down important information be detrimental to our learning processes? Could our memory and retention be negatively affected by digital note taking?

There is no doubt that digital note taking has its own benefits. Having the ability to take notes on a device that you already carry around with you saves you some extra weight in your bag. Typing your notes also has been proven to be faster than handwriting, meaning that you can jot down way more information than normal. Whether you are in school, at the office, or listening in on a conference speaker, there’s no doubt that using your phone, your laptop, or your tablet will get the information you’re hearing into a permanent location faster.

When it comes to learning, however, traditional note taking may be the superior choice. There are studies that show the benefits of using a pen and paper to help process information better. Read on to see the data.

The Benefits of Handwritten Note Taking:

With handwritten note taking, you are less susceptible to electronic distractions that digital note taking can provide. Laptops and tablets nowadays come with all sorts of features, apps, games, and notifications. It may be tempting to change the screen to check social media or messages during a lecture, lesson, or meeting.

digital note taking or handwritten note taking

In a study done by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer called The Pen Is Mightier Than The Keyboard, taking notes by hand was statistically more significant in improving learning than by the computer.

Mueller and Oppenheimer defined note taking in two different ways: generative and nongenerative. Generative note taking pertains to “summarizing, paraphrasing, and concept mapping,” while nongenerative note taking involves copying something verbatim.

Taking notes on a digital device, they found, is nongenerative. Since keyboards allow for quicker typing, these note takers have the tendency to type out as much info as they possibly can. While taking more notes may sound like a good thing, this takes away from the learning process of information. People are not necessarily understanding the information that is being provided to them — they are more prone to simply type out what they are hearing exactly.

On the other hand, when writing down the information you’re hearing with a pen or pencil, your brain needs to quickly summarize everything to be able to move onto the next section. This is done repeatedly throughout the lesson or meeting.

At the end of their study, Mueller and Oppenheimer found that the people writing out their notes by hand (and therefore summarizing, paraphrasing, and concept mapping by hand) were able to process the information much better — which resulted in overall improved learning and retention.

These findings mean that taking notes by hand makes our brains do a lot more processing and thinking than when we simply copy them down on our digital devices. And while it may be hard to transition back to the traditional ways of a pen and paper, this may be the learning secret we’ve been looking for.

How to Bring Back Traditional Note Taking to Your Learners

If you are a trainer, teacher, or leader and want your learners or meeting attendees to better understand the information you’re providing them, give them the tools they need to do so: paper and pens.

Mimeo makes it easy to print workbooks, manuals, presentations, and more to allow your learners and listeners to take notes directly on paper while you’re speaking.

You can also design branded pens and notebooks, to give your brand a boost while distributing information.

Scientifically proven: The effectiveness of poster

Scientifically proven: The effectiveness of posters

Studies on print’s effectiveness are not limited to just taking notes. Learn about why research showed that posters can increase knowledge, change attitudes and alter behavior here.  

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Mimeo Marketing Team

Mimeo is a global online print provider with a mission to give customers back their time. By combining front and back-end technology with a lean production model, Mimeo is the only company in the industry to guarantee your late-night print order will be produced, shipped, and delivered by 8 am the next morning. For more information, visit and see how Mimeo’s solutions can help you save time today.

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