Researchers from Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles conducted a series of studies to demonstrate the differences between students who wrote out their notes and those who typed notes. Participants took notes on a lecture using one of the two methods and were tested on the material 30 minutes after the lecture and again a week later.
Those who typed could copy down many more words than those who hand wrote their notes. But although more of the lecture content was retained on paper, it wasn't retained in the student's heads.
In the test 30 minutes after the lecture, typists and writers did more or less equally well on questions about the basic facts of the lecture, but typists faltered when it came to more conceptual questions.
While having more precise, detailed notes can help in recalling facts short-term, it takes the focus away from the main points of the lessons. Students who take handwritten notes need to quickly process the lesson and rewrite it in a way they can understand, giving them an advantage in remembering new concepts long-term.
As for the later quiz, well, the results were similar. Students with handwritten notes were able to remember and still understand the concepts of the lecture after a week had passed. These participants were also more open to understanding new ideas. Clearly, writing by hand is one of the little things that can make you smarter.
Computers aren’t going away anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean paper notebooks need to become obsolete. It also might be helpful to look at the typing-vs.-writing debate on a case-by-case basis. If your goal is to be able to spit back facts, the efficiency of typing might best benefit you. But when it comes to truly dissecting information, truly learning from it in the sense of making connections between and analyzing the material, and retaining it in the long run, you can’t beat writing by hand.