Paper or plastic?

Have you ever wonder if taking notes on your laptop is better than taking notes on paper? Wonder no more. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science explains that taking notes by hand is more effective for remembering conceptual information over the long term.

What is conceptual information? In 1969 professor Robert D. Sutherland described conceptual learning the following way:

Factual learning and conceptual learning may be distinguished as follows: factual learning emphasizes the acquisition and storage of information to be retrievable on demand; conceptual learning emphasizes the kinds of things one is able to do with the information one has acquired. [ ]

A conceptual emphasis entails a further dimension which is of crucial importance: it causes factual information to contribute to an end beyond itself—namely, the students’ learning to advance from the particular to the general, enabling them to synthesize relationships, to extrapolate from the known into the unknown, to hypothesize, and to discover further knowledge on their own. In my opinion, it is these abilities that we should be striving to foster in our learning experiences, at all levels.

And the writers at provide this very interesting definition:

Conceptual learning, or concept learning, is a learning method as well as a form of critical thinking in which individuals master the ability to categorize and organize data by creating mental logic-based structures. This process requires both knowledge construction and acquisition because individuals first identify key attributes that would make certain subjects fall in the same category or concept.

Why is it that writing on a piece of paper is better for retention and retrieval? The researchers suggest that possibly longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently.

But what if you take notes by hand on a tablet? Unfortunately this research did not explore that distinction. For now, it would be a good idea to keep your pen and paper at hand.

Image of handwritten notes

Image source: