The Mightier Method: Computing Versus Writing Notes in Online Education – Rev. David Hodge, Online Contributor


In an age of abundant technology, electronic devices have impacted the classroom in various ways. In a traditional classroom most if not all students have a device of some sort to use for note taking. In an online environment such a tool is a prerequisite. Since lectures, videos, and other learning tools are all viewed via an electronic device, it simply makes sense to only take notes by typing. Or is typing notes really the best method to facilitate learning? While studies will certainly suggest that listening and taking notes at the same time increases recall, what is the most effective method to do so?


Typing notes while the teacher lectures is certainly an effective way to capture the words of the professor. Depending on the speed of the speaker and the typist, one can often record many of the words which are communicated. The typed notes then become more or less a transcript of the presentation which ensures that the material that has been emphasized is captured in written form. This can be reread and studied as necessary. Having such a transcript of words is much less important in the online educational environment where students can replay lectures and resources as often as necessary to ensure a complete compilation of the material. Whether on campus or in an online setting, what is even more important than a record of the words is the comprehension of the material being presented. Typing notes, then, is less about comprehension and can actually be distracting since one is concentrating upon capturing the words of the speaker and is not necessarily digesting the ideas which are being presented. Obviously when a student takes notes by hand not every word can be recorded, so one has to summarize, consolidate, and restate the material which is communicated. This act itself is a helpful aspect for learning development and demonstrates that comprehension of the material is already in process.


For the online student does it really make a difference which method one follows? In one sense it may depend upon personal preference. In reality, though, it is not necessary to type every word of a lecture when it can simply be replayed as needed. In online classes, taking notes by hand ensures that the student manually writes down that which is really significant and stands out from the rest of the presented material. Hand writing significant factual material (definitions, people, places, dates, etc.) or concepts can also reinforce the memory process. A possible downside to handwritten notes, of course, can occur if the notes are not legible; however, this problem can be negated in the online environment due to the fact that a lecture can be stopped in midstream to write down a thought, note, or question without missing the next statement. As a result, there is never a need to write quickly resulting in illegible writing. Of course, this does not guarantee legibility…. One last suggestion is that typing the handwritten notes will even further reinforce the material being studied.


Without a doubt note taking is essential to enhance learning. The twenty-first century has impacted learning in many ways. However, it may be that marrying something old (taking handwritten notes) with something new (the benefit of recorded, reviewable “on demand” lectures) might create a very happy ending in the learning process.


For more information and scientific research on this topic, see this article from