For the first study, the students watched a 15-minute TED talk and took notes on it, then took a test on it half an hour afterward. Some of the test questions were straightforward, asking for a particular figure or fact, while others were conceptual, and asked students to compare or analyze ideas.
The two groups of students — laptop users and hand-writers — did pretty similarly on the factual questions. But the laptop users did significantly worse on the conceptual ones:
The problem appears to be that the laptop turns students into stenographers, people who write down everything they hear as quickly as they can. Students who take handwritten notes, however, try to process the material as they are writing it down so that they only have to write down the key ideas. Forcing the brain to extract the most vital information is actually when the learning happens.
The laptops resulted in worse learning even under the study conditions when they were actually used to take notes. In the real world, the laptops are a tempting distraction. I am reminded of the day my son came to my class. He sat in the back and afterwards he said “Dad, I can see why you are so interested in online education. Half of your students are online during your class already.”