How to Take Notes on a Laptop and Should You

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Peterson, Deb. "How to Take Notes on a Laptop and Should You." ThoughtCo, Feb. 4, 2017, thoughtco.com/how-to-take-notes-on-a-laptop-31659. Peterson, Deb. (2017, February 4). How to Take Notes on a Laptop and Should You. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-take-notes-on-a-laptop-31659 Peterson, Deb. "How to Take Notes on a Laptop and Should You." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-take-notes-on-a-laptop-31659 (accessed October 23, 2017).
Laptop in class - Robert Nicholas - OJO Images - GettyImages-88689453
Robert Nicholas - OJO Images - GettyImages-88689453

There are so many ways to take notes in class today: laptops, tablets, and other devices, recording apps, and the good old-fashioned pen and notebook. Which one should you use? Does it matter? Of course, the answer is personal. What works for one person won't work for another. But there are some compelling arguments for writing notes longhand, with a pen or pencil, including research by scientists Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, who found that students who wrote notes by hand had a better conceptual grasp of the material taught.

They understood more, had better recall, and tested better. That's pretty hard to argue with.

Two articles by leading organizations discuss the matter:

Why? Partly because they listened better and were more engaged in the learning rather than trying to type word-for-word everything the teacher said. Clearly, we can type faster than we can write, unless you know the ancient art of shorthand. If you choose to use a laptop for your note taking, keep this study in mind and don't try to record every single thing said. Listen. Think. And type only the notes you would have written by hand.

There are other things to keep in mind:

  • Does your teacher allow laptops in the classroom for note taking?
  • Is your laptop easy to carry and set up?
  • Do you need to plug it in?
  • Are there electrical outlets available in your classroom?
  • Does your software load quickly?
  • Do you have good habits for organizing your documents?
  • Can you pay attention in class with your laptop open?

If you can say yes to all or most of those questions, then taking notes on a laptop may be good time management for you.

I know that I can type much faster than I can write, so for me, the benefits of using a laptop are:

  • I can pay better attention to the teacher because I can type without looking at my hands.
  • Even when I make mistakes typing, my notes are still legible.
  • It's so much easier to organize my notes into folders.
  • My file cabinet is my laptop. Nice!
  • Once edited, I can copy notes and paste them into documents.

But there are drawbacks to using a laptop for note taking:

  • Make sure you're not trying to type a lecture word for word just because you're fast.
  • There are some notes that can't be typed unless you're a wiz with software. Have paper and pen or pencil next to your laptop for anything you can't type, like a quick drawing of something.
  • If you have to rush between classes, closing down and starting up a laptop takes time. Be careful not to be rude in the classroom by rummaging with your things when your teacher is speaking.
  • Laptops can be expensive and fragile. If you're toting yours daily, make sure you have a sturdy one and that you're careful with it.
  • Laptops can be stolen. If you lose it, you're in trouble.
  • Laptops are also vulnerable to viruses and other maladies. You want to be sure you've got adequate protection and back up your data regularly so you don't lose it all the night before your assignment is due.

    Study skills and time management can be greatly improved by using a laptop with good sense. Here's a bit more advice:

    • Whether or not you have access to the Internet in class, try to resist logging on. The temptation can be great to peek at social media, answer email, or anything else you do online. These are obvious distractions you don't need.
    • Try to type big ideas, not every idea.
    • Remember to look up and stay engaged with your teacher.