Psychology professor Michelle D. Miller points out a problem in the widely-cited 2014 study on the effectiveness of written note-taking versus using a laptop. According to Miller, when other scholars attempted to repeat the experiment in the study, titled “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” they weren’t able to get the same results:
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“Some patterns found in the original study replicated, but some—most notably the conceptual recall question advantage—did not,” Miller writes in a forthcoming book, “Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology.” Miller is quick to note that the authors of the original study did nothing wrong, and that it is typical for small studies to have findings that turn out to be “fragile” when submitted to follow-up studies. As she notes: “All this back and forth is good social science, but from a practical standpoint it leads to one fairly glaring conclusion: If the supposed advantage of handwriting is flaky enough, or simply small enough, not to reliably show up across studies, we probably shouldn’t be remaking our classroom policies because of it.”
Miller has been looking into what learning science says about all kinds of narratives that float around technology and teaching these days. Do learners remember less when they can fall back on search engines? Do younger generations that grew up with technology—so-called digital natives—really function better with machines than older folks do? And can tech be used to help boost students’ memory of what they’re taught?
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