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✍️ Do you prefer to take notes on paper or digitally? Here’s what research has to say!
Plus tools for better note-taking.
Dear subscribers, there was a technical glitch that prevented this e-mail from reaching you on time this morning; it is never too late to have a Super Sunday though, so here we go! ☺️
Hello friend! 👋
Welcome to this week’s Super Sunday newsletter.
If you’re like me, taking notes is a critical part of your system to digest and retain information, especially if you’re studying something new.
But choosing between digital and analog note-taking has been a challenge for me; each comes with its set of pros & cons (although I am more of the analog type than digital when it comes to notes).
So I went out to see what science has to say about this.
Let’s dive straight in!
Digital note-taking retains less information
In 2014, two researchers found that although digital note-taking resulted in more volume of notes being generated, the information wasn’t processed as good as the analogue counterpart.
They tested this by dividing people into two groups, digital and analog, asked them to watch a TED Talk then tested them for information recall.
The group that took notes by hand was able to create a better cognitive construct of the information given.
This allowed them to recall more information but also answer more questions related to the topic.
On the other hand, the group that took notes digitally was able to recall information verbatim (more exact words). However, they did not process this information deeply enough to answer other questions related to the same concept.
Reading this made me happy - I love taking notes physically, possibly because that’s how I grew up studying, but I also believe that the slower speed of writing allows the brain to process information “mindfully”
This research by Muller and Oppenheimer (did you watch the movie yet? It is a different Oppenheimer, but I had to ask 👀) was challenged in 2021, and the newer finding is…
The difference is negligible.
In 2021, Haring and Kelner, the two researchers challenging the previous study, pointed out that when students were told that they would be tested on the information, the scores changed.
So, taking notes with intentionality seems to be the main contributor to how well we process the information we receive.
This research is powerful because it was done with students in a classroom, therefore not part of a study where participants volunteer to sign up - that is, they may have some bias.
The age of the participants is also important; in this study, the age was 12-13-year-olds in comparison with adults in the other research (more to say the results are more “natural”)
So, given that note-taking digitally is not bad after all, you can rest assured that you (or your kids) can still benefit as long as the intention for learning from taking these notes is solid.
In contrast with taking notes word by word, hoping that our brain will retain on its own (which I, too, am guilty of at times).
Seeing both sides of the equation, we come back to a fundamental concept I always talk about here:
“This AND That” not “This OR That”
Everything in life is the right balance of two things; Lao Tzu told us about this thousands of years ago when he wrote about the Yin and Yang.
This is why I LOVE my iPad;
I take notes digitally when I need speed and want to fit within a defined structure (using only words, sentences lined up in bullet points and paragraphs)
On the other hand, I love having an open canvas to draw a mind map of how different concepts relate, how do they fit within bigger frameworks, or simply “what shape do they take” - sharp edges, soft, solid, flexible, etc.. all these are only possible with free-writing with a pen, which the Apple Pencil does a great job in providing.
Further research on the topic shows that it is not the mode of taking notes that defines the quality of information retention; rather it is the HOW.
We talked about intentionality, but there are other strategies to employ to help retain information more effectively:
If watching a recorded video, do not pause and rewind. Knowing you have the ability to do so messes up with the intentionality of retaining information and increases the tendency to copy information word-by-word (without much processing)
Use summarizing in your own words as a technique to conceptualize and process information
Gamify it! Use questions as a tool to summarize - a good question, with the correct detail/problem statement, will force your brain to retain important details necessary to answer the question.
I use these tools all the time to help retain information.
This is what I did to go through 160-books in my coach certification program, and it is what I currently do to study for my Master’s in Positive Psychology (sifting through endless books and research papers)
Give it a try, and increase the ROI of the time you spend consuming information.
Until next week.
Have a Super Sunday! 💪
With much joy,