Difficulties with Virtual Content

 Posted by on 6 April 2015 at 10:00 am  Education, Epistemology
Apr 062015

This article on the benefits of writing notes by hand rather than on the computer — The Benefits of No-Tech Note Taking — rings true in my experience as a student (and as a teacher). Computers are an impediment to good note-taking, not a help. Even apart from the distraction, the problem is the way that people take notes:

The researchers found that students who used laptops were inclined to try to take notes verbatim—even when they were told not to. The longhand note takers took selective, organized notes because they couldn’t write fast enough to get everything down. As a result, they processed lectures more deeply, which allowed them to retain more information and even understand it better.

On a related note, I’ve found that I have serious problems retaining written material read on the kindle, in part, I think, because every text is formatted the same. I’ve found that the various things I read blend together and then disappear from memory in ways that print books, audio books, and even articles read online don’t do.

Do you have the same experience? If so, any suggestions?

  • James

    I think a large part of it is the difficulty in flipping through the book in electronic format. With a physical book, you can always just flip back to what the character said–or forward to see if something becomes important later (or ties into something later if you’re re-reading the work). With technical works, this is absolutely critical, and with fiction it’s often very helpful in understanding something. With physical books, it’s easy; Post-It notes are cheap. With electronic formats, it’s much more difficult.

    I don’t think it’s as much of an issue with books-on-tape, because we evolved to understand oral stories. I’m not sure we get as much depth from books-on-tape as we do from physical books, but at least evolution is on our side when it comes to oral recitations. And some stories don’t require that depth–for example, I’d highly recommend listening to the Conan stories (to be clear, I’m talking the barbarian), because while the stories are fun yarns thinking too much about them is just depressing.

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