By Stacy Soappman, PT, DSc, COMT, FAAOMPT
I have a confession. I like words. I mean, I really like words. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that I like words. I am still in shock and awe that when I teach I actually get paid to talk and use my words. What could be better to a person who loves words then to get paid to talk? If you ask my students, they will tell you that I have an extraordinary talent for using a lot of words in a short period of time…a.k.a…I talk fast. This is what leads me to my conundrum. How do I get my students to learn and assimilate what I am trying to teach them when they are trying to write in such a frantic tizzy to keep up with the thought I had 5 minutes ago? The first step to correcting a problem is admitting there is a problem.
Well, I think I covered that in the first few sentences here. The next step is trying to correct the behavior. I have tried talking slower, but when I get excited (and NAIOMT stuff is just so amazingly exciting – no sarcasm intended) I can’t help myself and my speed picks up again. Since that tactic is obviously not working, I decided to save my students from a lifetime of carpel tunnel and glazed eyes and write everything down in my course manual that they needed to know for the class. That way they could focus on my words instead of trying to frantically write. I thought that was a brilliant idea. I was happy, and my students were happy. But am I fully maximizing their learning potential by making them “passive” learners who can just sit there and try to digest the information?
I recently came across the following study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer. In their study, they compared the learning and assimilation of knowledge of students who had to take notes the “old fashioned way” with paper and pencil to students who took notes on their lap tops. Their findings demonstrated that students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more.
“Across three experiments, Mueller and Oppenheimer had students take notes in a classroom setting and then tested students on their memory for factual detail, their conceptual understanding of the material, and their ability to synthesize and generalize the information. Half of the students were instructed to take notes with a laptop, and the other half were instructed to write the notes out by hand. As in other studies, students who used laptops took more notes. In each study, however, those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops. “(1)
The researchers postulate that because writing by hand requires more time, the student cannot possibly write down every word the professor is saying. They have to listen, condense the knowledge, assimilate and organize it in their brains, and then write it out. With typing, the student can be passively typing and never have to “think” about what they are typing. In today’s culture, everyone thinks more is better – but is it? In the NAIOMT system, one of our goals as instructors is to prepare students for their exams. Students want everything written down so they can study it and reread it as many times as possible. Regarding tests, Mueller and Oppenheimer go on to say:
“When participants were given an opportunity to study with their notes before the final assessment, once again those who took longhand notes outperformed laptop participants” (1)
So is less better in this instance? It would certainly make my life much easier if it was. It takes me about 6 months to put together a course manual. When I sit down to do it, I pull out everything I have on the subject, which usually includes course manuals from about 5-6 other NAIOMT faculty. Why reinvent the wheel when others have done it so brilliantly before me? But here-in lies part of the problem with loving words. I can’t stop writing when I have all that exciting knowledge in front of me. So my course manuals tend to be quite large – almost 400 pages large for my level I manual.
One of my main mentors has been Erl Pettman. For those of you who have taken a class from him, you know that he has the wonderful gift of being able to talk for 6 days on a complex subject without ever opening a book, using a power point presentation, or looking at his notes. In comparison to my 400 pages, my level I course manual from Erl is approximately 86 pages. And often those pages are largely blank with loose bullet points where you need to write in the information as he is presenting it. I stock up on pens that are easy to write with before Erl’s classes. I have gone through 2 pens and 51 pages of paper in just one class. Kudos to Erl for once again being ahead of his time by having us write everything down.
Am I ready, and are my students ready, for me to have an 86 page course manual? I don’t think so. It is going to take a lot of sedatives to slow me down to the point that their writing could possibly keep up with the rate of my talking. What this study has done, though, is help me to have more silence in the room to allow people to think about what I have just said and jot down some thoughts to help improve their learning. And maybe after 40 years of practice, I will be able to do an “Erl” and talk slowly with less writing. That is a BIG maybe, but I am working on it.
So what do you think? More? Less? What is your learning style? What do you prefer?
- May C: A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop. Scientific America.