Paper vs. Digital

Paper is known to be very good for learning things. Writing things down is supposed to make you focus on what really matters instead of simply writing down everything you see or read. In a sense the limitation forces you to do the real work which is to try to record the essence of the things you’re learning for later. Transcripts are fine, but unless you go back later and then take notes on that, which basically doubles the time you’re spending on the same material, then you’ll get more out of simply taking real notes.

Paper has weird effects on our mind which seems to handle better than things like reading/writing on digital devices.

The best method is probably recording using a digital device the audio and/or video of something like a lecture if it isn’t already recorded. You can take notes then and then simply watch the lecture again with your notes and fill in whatever you may have missed.

Laptops, and technology in general, aren’t great in lectures and meetings

Some researchers at Princeton and UCLA have run experiments in classrooms, that match similar work done by professors at West Point, showing that students in a lecture on laptops fail to learn or retain as much information as other students.

I find this pretty hard to swallow, as someone who loves typing over writing things on paper, but I happen to have anecdotal personal evidence that convinces me that this is true.

One of the issues is that during a lecture of enough complexity there simply isn’t any time to write notes much more intelligent than transcripts. Professors of these studies think that because you simply can’t write fast enough to create a transcript like set of notes, like you can on the computer, that it forced students who took paper notes to summarize quickly and encouraged them to learn the material faster.

There are a couple take-aways here:

Firstly, paper notes in a learning environment are better than using the computer. I’ve seen this several times over the years and the classes which I managed to convince myself to take paper notes in I did much better.

But, while this is interesting, they only focus on short term results on standardized tests. The main thing they seem to have evidence for is that notes help us internalize this information, which for students is a big deal. This doesn’t mean computers are not good tools for learning or gaining knowledge, but that they’re not great tools for helping us internalizing that information as we receive it. Not all learners or note takers need to internalize everything they take notes on, but knowing that for important meetings or lectures computers won’t be as good is smart to know.

Spaced Repitition


“Want To Remember Everything You’ll Ever Learn? Surrender To This Algorithm” - Wired